In rare address, Iran's supreme leader praises strikes on U.S. bases

Image: Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei leading the main weekly
Iranians cheer during Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's address on Friday. Copyright Iran Press
By Saphora Smith and Associated Press with NBC News World News
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Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's decision to speak at Friday prayers shows how seriously authorities take reaction to the accidental downing of Ukrainian jet.


TEHRAN — The recent missile attack on U.S. troops in Iraq led to "American humiliation," Iran's supreme leader said on Friday as the government grappled with the fallout of the U.S.'s killing of a top general and scrambled to contain anger at the subsequent accidental shootdown of a passenger plane.

"They stealthily and cowardly assassinated Gen. [Qassem] Soleimani in a terrorist fashion. This resulted in a disgrace for America," Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told huge crowds, according to state-owned Press TV.

Earlier, Iranians flooded the streets outside of Tehran's Mosalla Mosque to hear Khamenei, 80, address Friday prayers for the first time since 2012.

Wrapped up against the cold, some carried pictures of the supreme leader while others held aloft placards demanding the U.S. "Pack up and get lost." The crowds quickly filled the inner hall of the mosque so many spilled out onto the streets.

Khamenei's decision to speak at Friday prayers indicates how seriously authorities are taking recent events, particularly the downing of the Ukrainian jet thatkilled 176 people aboard, including 82 Iranians.

The last time Khamenei, who has the final say on major decisions in Iran, spoke at the service was to mark the annual 10 days of celebrations that mark the 1979 revolution that overthrew Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.

Now Iran is reeling from the death of Soleimani, who was killed when a U.S. drone targeted his motorcade in Baghdad on Jan. 3. Less than a week later, Iran launched a barrage ofballistic missiles targeting U.S. troops in Iraq. Nobody was killed in the attack but it ramped up tensions with the U.S.

As Iran's Revolutionary Guard braced for an American counterattack, it mistakenly shot down the Ukrainian passenger plane shortly after it took off from the capital, Tehran. Iran initially denied that a missile had struck the plane last Wednesday, only to reverse course on Saturday and admit that it had shot the plane down by accident.

Manystudents and middle-class Iranians took to the streets in protest. In Tehran, some students refused to trample on paintings of U.S. and Israeli flags in an apparent rejection of the government's attempts to deflect blame.

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