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Unit headed by Iran’s Qassem Soleimani armed Canada’s enemies, former CSIS official says

Click to play video 'Iran says its military ‘unintentionally’ shot down Ukrainian jetliner' Iran says its military ‘unintentionally’ shot down Ukrainian jetliner
WATCH: New developments late Friday out of Iran following the explosion of a passenger jetliner over the country earlier in the week. – Jan 11, 2020

Since the longtime commander of the Quds Force, Qassem Suleimani, was killed Jan. 3 in a U.S. airstrike in Baghdad, he has been called a hero by Tehran and a terrorist by Washington.

The response from Ottawa has been more muted, with Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne saying Soleimani’s “aggressive actions have had a destabilizing effect in the region and beyond.”

But a former senior Canadian intelligence official was more explicit.

“Qassem Soleimani was a brutal yet talented terrorist leader,” Andrew Ellis told Global News in an interview. “That’s the best way I can describe him.”

“He was supporting organizations that were sympathetic to the Iranian cause and specifically organizations whose mandate was violence,” Ellis said. “He never ceased in his desire to cause mayhem and violence throughout the region.”

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READ MORE: Who is Qassem Soleimani? The top Iranian general killed in a U.S. airstrike

During Canada’s military mission in Afghanistan, for example, Soleimani’s Quds Force secretly supplied the Taliban with materials to attack international coalition troops, said Ellis, a former assistant director of operations at the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.

“They were doing everything in their power to supply elements of the Afghan insurgency and terrorist organizations.”

Although careful to hide their involvement, Quds Force operatives backed the armed extremists to undermine the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force mission, he said.

He said it was difficult to know the extent of Soleimani’s role in Afghanistan, where Canada lost more than 150 troops, many killed by improvised explosives. Another 1,800 were wounded.

READ MORE: Families of fallen Canadians in Afghanistan reflect on loss

But he said if the Quds Force was supplying the Taliban, Soleimani was likely involved. “I would speculate that he had a role in supplying Canada’s enemies. And those enemies subsequently hurt Canadians.”

Click to play video 'Qassem Soleimani: Who he was and why the United States killed him' Qassem Soleimani: Who he was and why the United States killed him
Qassem Soleimani: Who he was and why the United States killed him – Jan 3, 2020

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson made similar comments in the House of Commons this week, telling MPs that Soleimani “had the blood of British troops on his hands.”

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In addition to arming Hezbollah with missiles used to attack civilians, he said Soleimani gave “improvised explosive devices to terrorists who, I am afraid, killed and maimed British troops.”

In particular, he was responsible for introducing Explosively Formed Projectiles to armed groups, the Times reported. Designed to penetrate armored vehicles, EFPs began to appear in Iraq in 2004.

The U.S. Director of National Intelligence reported in 2008 that Iran was arming the Taliban, and that NATO forces had intercepted a convoy carrying improvised explosives from Iran to the Taliban.

“However, there were limits to Iran’s willingness to support the Taliban and other insurgent groups,” Seth Jones wrote in a 2008 report Rand study prepared for the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

“Iran historically had poor relations with the Taliban,” according to the report, and had also backed anti-Taliban allies “because it was concerned about the rise of Sunni extremist groups like the Taliban.”

But Ellis said the goal of the Quds Force was to spread instability in Afghanistan; Iran knew that Taliban attacks would lead to reprisals, resulting in losses for both the Taliban and the U.S.-led coalition.

“It just causes massive disruption.”

Click to play video 'Champagne says death toll of Canadians in Iran plane crash has dropped to 57' Champagne says death toll of Canadians in Iran plane crash has dropped to 57
Champagne says death toll of Canadians in Iran plane crash has dropped to 57 – Jan 10, 2020

Canada’s list of proscribed terrorist groups accuses the Quds Force of providing “arms, funding and paramilitary training to extremist groups” including the Taliban.

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The Quds Force is also linked to armed groups in Yemen, Bahrain and Iraq, as well as Hezbollah and Hamas. Soleimani “would do anything he could to disrupt and cause harm to not only Israelis but innocent Jewish people around the world,” Ellis said.

“They are very talented. They have exceptional deniability. They are able, through layers and layers of financial networks, to provide support and guidance and direction to all sorts of organizations around the world.”

READ MORE: Iranian general replacing Qassem Soleimani promises revenge for U.S. airstrike

Soleimani’s killing followed the death of an American in a missile attack on an Iraqi military base by the Iranian-backed militia Kataib Hezbollah, whose leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis was also killed.

Soleimani has been replaced by Ismail Qaani, who reportedly visited Afghanistan last year under a false identity. According to the U.S. Treasury, he was responsible for Quds Force “financial disbursements” to various groups.

The Quds Force is the clandestine external operations wing of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, the IRGC, which on Wednesday fired missiles at an Iraqi military base where Canadian troops were deployed.

Hours later, the IRGC fired a missile at a Ukrainian passenger plane taking off from Tehran airport, killing all 176 on board, including 57 Canadians. Iran blamed “human error” on Saturday.

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Stewart.Bell@globalnews.ca