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Biden administration warned Iran before terror attack that killed over 80 in Kerman, U.S. officials say

The Biden administration issued a private warning to Iran before the Jan. 3 terror attacks by the Islamic State (ISIS) that killed more than 80 people in the city of Kerman, U.S. officials confirmed Thursday.    

The warning, which was based on actionable intelligence, was delivered a week prior to dual suicide bombings at a ceremony for the anniversary of the death of Qassem Soleimani, the former head of the elite Quds Force within Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).  Soleimani was killed in a drone strike authorized by the Trump administration in 2019 near the Baghdad International Airport.   

"Prior to ISIS' terrorist attack on Jan. 3, 2024, in Kerman, Iran, the U.S. government provided Iran with a private warning that there was a terrorist threat within Iranian borders," a U.S. official told CBS News. "The U.S. government followed a longstanding "duty to warn" policy that has been implemented across administrations to warn governments against potential lethal threats."    

"We provide these warnings in part because we do not want to see innocent lives lost in terror attacks," the official said.    

Iranian officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The American officials declined to offer details about the nature or further specificity about the  timing of the warning, the intelligence underlying it, or any response they may have received from Tehran. It could not be determined if Iranian officials took any steps to try to thwart the attacks, the deadliest in decades, based on the U.S. warning.  

In recent weeks, President Biden has acknowledged that the U.S. delivered private messages to Iran in regard to attacks conducted by Houthi militias based in Yemen. He did not make mention of any communication regarding the Afganistan-based ISIS-Khorasan, or ISIS-K, terror attack in Iran. Messages are typically delivered via intermediary countries, given the lack of direct diplomatic contact between the US and Iran. 

ISIS, a radical Sunni group with an avowed hatred of Shiite Muslims, later claimed responsibility for the bombing, calling it a "dual martyrdom operation." Iran's population is more than 90% Shia Muslim.  

Administration officials have repeatedly cited the Iranian government as a key fomenter of instability in the region, including in the heated aftermath of the Oct. 7 attack on Israel by Hamas extremists. The Islamic Republic of Iran, led by Shiite clerics, provides funding and weapons for Hamas, and the US considers it to be the world's largest state sponsor of terrorism. 

"I would not interpret any kind of change in policy based on anything out there," State Department deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel said Thursday.  Patel declined to confirm any warning was issued but said the U.S. continues to have an "adversarial" relationship with Iran.

National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) Christine Director Abizaid noted an "increased external threat" from ISIS-K, a branch of ISIS principally concentrated in Afghanistan, in Senate testimony last October. The group was behind the August 2021 attack in Kabul that killed more than 180 people, including 13 American soldiers.  

U.S. officials acknowledged ISIS-K "does remain a viable terrorist threat."  

The U.S. routinely issues warnings to foreign governments, including adversarial ones, when it has detailed intelligence ahead of a potentially deadly event or act, including kidnappings, according to current and former officials, who also said it was not the first time the U.S. had provided such a warning to Iran.  

Camilla Schick contributed to this report.

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