Trump vows to target 52 sites in Iran if Teheran retaliates
US President defends assassination of Iranian commander; protests against the killing erupt in US
WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump warned on Saturday that the US is targeting 52 sites in Iran and will hit them "very fast and very hard" if the Islamic republic attacks American personnel or assets.
In a sabre-rattling tweet that defended Friday's US drone strike assassination of powerful Iranian general Qasem Soleimani in Iraq, Mr Trump said 52 represents the number of Americans held hostage at the US embassy in Teheran for more than a year starting in late 1979.
Mr Trump said some of these sites are "at a very high level and important to Iran and the Iranian culture, and those targets, and Iran itself, will be hit very fast and very hard. The US wants no more threats."
On Saturday night, Mr Trump tweeted again, this time warning Iran that the US will hit Iran "harder than they have ever been hit before!"
He followed up with another tweet, saying the US would use its "brand new beautiful" military equipment "without hesitation" if the Iranians retaliate.
Mr Trump spoke out after pro-Iran factions ramped up pressure on US installations across Iraq with missiles and warnings to Iraqi troops - part of an outburst of fury over the killing of General Soleimani, described as the second most powerful man in Iran.
With Iran promising revenge, his killing was the most dramatic escalation yet in spiralling tensions between Washington and Teheran and has prompted fears of a major conflagration in the Middle East.
In the first hints of a possible retaliatory response, two mortar rounds hit an area near the US embassy in Baghdad on Saturday, security sources told AFP.
Almost simultaneously, two rockets slammed into the Al-Balad airbase where US troops are deployed north of Baghdad, security sources said.
The Iraqi military confirmed the missile attacks in Baghdad and on Al-Balad and said there were no casualties. The US military also said no coalition troops were hurt.
With Americans wondering fearfully if, how and where Iran will hit back for the assassination, the US Department of Homeland Security issued a bulletin that said "at this time there is no specific, credible threat against the homeland".
However, on Saturday, the website of the Federal Depository Library Program, a US government agency, was breached by a group claiming to be linked to Iran, who posted graphics with the Iranian flag and vowing revenge for General Soleimani's death.
Separately, US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said in a statement that information given to Congress by Mr Trump, a Republican, "prompts serious and urgent questions about the timing, manner and justification of" the strike.
"The Trump administration's provocative, escalatory and disproportionate military engagement continues to put service members, diplomats and citizens of America and our allies in danger," she said.
Another prominent democrat, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, called Mr Trump a "monster", for "threatening to target and kill innocent families, women and children".
In a tweet, she said: "This is a war crime."
Demonstrators chanting "no war on Iran" rallied on Saturday in Washington, New York and across the US to protest against the assassination.
Outside the White House, around 200 people gathered as part of a wave of rallies.
They chanted slogans including "No Justice, No Peace, US out of the Middle East".
Organisers said demonstrations were convened in some 70 US cities.
"Need a distraction? Start of a war," read a sign held by protester Sam Crook, 66. - AFP