US Warned Iran Ahead of ISIL Attack

The enemy of my enemy is still my enemy.

WSJ (“U.S. Secretly Alerted Iran Ahead of Islamic State Terrorist Attack“):

The U.S. secretly warned Iran that Islamic State was preparing to carry out the terrorist attack early this month that killed more than 80 Iranians in a pair of coordinated suicide bombings, U.S. officials said.

The confidential alert came after the U.S. acquired intelligence that Islamic State’s affiliate in Afghanistan, ISIS-Khorasan, known as ISIS-K, was plotting to attack Iran, they said.

American officials said the information passed to Iran was specific enough about the location and sufficiently timely that it might have proved useful to Tehran in thwarting the attack on Jan. 3 or at least mitigating the casualty toll.

Iran, however, failed to prevent the suicide bombings in the southeastern town of Kerman, which targeted a crowd that was commemorating the anniversary of the death of Qassem Soleimani, the commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds force. Soleimani was killed in a January 2020 drone attack near the Baghdad airport ordered by then-President Donald Trump.

“Prior to ISIS’s terrorist attack on January 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 said, using an acronym for Islamic State. “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.” 

Officials with Iran’s mission to the United Nations didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Despite the American warning, some Iranian hard-liners have suggested that Islamic State perpetrators were linked to the U.S. and Israel. At a ceremony in Kerman honoring the victims, Maj. Gen. Hossein Salami, the most senior Revolutionary Guard commander said Islamic State “has disappeared nowadays,” arguing the jihadists “only act as mercenaries” for U.S. and Israeli interests.

CBS News (“Biden administration warned Iran before terror attack that killed over 80 in Kerman, U.S. officials say“) reports that it was told the same thing, using exactly the same words, which leads me to believe that this was some sort of written release. The report adds:

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. 


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.

The “duty to warn” policy strikes me as a good one. By definition, terrorist attacks target civilians, so we ought to seek to thwart them whenever possible even when the target state is an adversary. Beyond that, it simply makes sense for adversaries to cooperate on matters of mutual interest.

What’s more interesting to me is this coordinated campaign to get the word out, via an unnamed “official,” using the exact language in multiple reports. I don’t imagine the American public, which typically pays next to no attention to foreign affairs, is the target audience.

FILED UNDER: Intelligence, Middle East, National Security, Terrorism, World Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. JohnMc says:

    One is reminded of the numerous warnings that Stalin received prior to Barbarossa. Much as democracies seem self-frustrating and clumsy, they have better batting average in protecting themselves.

    Of course, one is also reminded that GWBush heard from several advisers whose ‘hair on fire’ alarm about terror attacks did not lead to action. So. Some democracies are better than others.

  2. DK says:

    @JohnMc: Bush’s election was only partially-democratic. He lost the popular vote, winning the Electoral College only after intervention from a Supreme Court controlled by his party’s appointees.

    So. Your theory holds.

  3. JohnSF says:

    IMO the audience are for the US in this regard are the anti-IS public of the Muslim countries, and indeed many others, as a counter to the propaganda of the Iranian government, and Russia, that the US is the “hidden hand” backer of IS.
    Americans may think this absurd, but this disinformation line has been pushed heavily in social media by the mullahs and Moscow, in particular subsequent to the outbreak of the Syrian revolt and the (abortive) US intervention.
    The US/IS alignment is widely held to be the truth by many Muslims, and large parts of the European far left and far right.
    Take a look at Twitter some time, and you’ll soon encounter it.

  4. Slugger says:

    I’m in favor of some sort of rapprochement with Iran. Our mutual hostility does not lower the price of oil nor make the region less volatile in my view. I think that we should consider the fact that they have not developed nuclear weapons as a sign that they are not totally unapproachable. If a place like North Korea can afford nukes, then the ayatollahs certainly can. Maybe send a soccer team?

  5. JohnSF says:

    Trust me on this: the Mullahs are not your friends.
    They are as opposed to the “West” and its entire ethos on principle as the Nazis and Bolsheviks were, and, for that matter, the evangelical Christo-fascists and IS/AQ types are.
    As for nukes, the Iranian regime is getting to them crabwise for its own good reasons.

    The US sent an Olympic team to Germany in 1936.
    Much f’in good did that do.

  6. Scott says:

    I wrote about this yesterday.

    My comment WRT this was:

    Reminds me going back to just after 9/11. Iran offered help to the US WRT Afghanistan. After all, they were enemies of the Taliban also. But Bush basically slapped Iran’s hand away, plopped another army on the other side of Iran in Iraq. And blew our chance to change the dynamics of the region. I blame that fiasco on the far-right Christian fanatics that have too much say in our foreign policy.

    Twenty years have passed and the chance to perhaps deal with a moderating Iran has passed also.

  7. JohnSF says:

    The one thing that might have made the US position in Afghanistan even worse would have been an alliance with the Iranian Mullahs.
    The details are long, historically deep, and convoluted, but let’s just say neither the moderate “secular” Kabuli minority, the tribes, the Sunni or the Sufi have much trust or regard for any Iranian regime, least of all a Shia mullah-ocracy.
    And trying to balance between Islamabad and Tehran?
    Not much joy to be had there, I suspect.

  8. Andy says:

    This isn’t the first time for this sort of thing, though I don’t recall this kind of unusual “public” post-hoc announcement.

    But considering what the Iranians have been doing for the past couple of months, I wonder what the point is.