US President Donald Trump has defended his order to kill General Qasem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ (IRGC) elite Quds Force, claiming that the deceased had contributed to “terrorist plots as far away as New Delhi and London.”

“The recent attacks on US targets in Iraq, including rocket strikes that killed an American and injured four American servicemen very badly, as well as a violent assault on our embassy in Baghdad, were carried out at the direction of Soleimani,” Trump told reporters at Mar-a-Lago in Florida.

“Soleimani made the death of innocent people his sick passion, contributing to terrorist plots as far away as New Delhi and London. Today we remember and honour the victims of Soleimani’s many atrocities and we take comfort in knowing that his reign of terror is over,” he said.

The US President further alleged that Soleimani has been perpetrating acts of terror to destabilize the Middle East for the last 20 years.

“What the United States did yesterday should have been done long ago. A lot of lives would have been saved. Just recently Soleimani led the brutal repression of protesters in Iran, where more than 1,000 innocent civilians were tortured and killed by their own government,” he said.

Amid escalation of tension with Iran, Trump claimed Soleimani’s killing will not lead to war.

“We took action last night to stop a war. We did not take action to start a war. I have deep respect for the Iranian people. They are a remarkable people with an incredible heritage and unlimited potential. We do not seek regime change,” Trump said.

“However, the Iranian regime’s aggression in the region, including the use of proxy fighters to destabilize its neighbours, must end and it must end now. The future belongs to the people of Iran, those who seek peaceful co-existence and cooperation, not the terrorist warlords who plunder their nation to finance bloodshed abroad,” he added.

Iran had termed the US action of “international terrorism” as “extremely dangerous and a foolish escalation”.

Trump further said at his direction, the United States military successfully executed a flawless precision strike that killed the “number one terrorist” anywhere in the world.

“Soleimani was plotting imminent and sinister attacks on American diplomats and military personnel, but we caught him in the act and terminated him,” he said.

“Under my leadership, America’s policy is unambiguous to terrorists who harm or intend to harm any American. We will find you. We will eliminate you. We will always protect our diplomats, service members, all Americans and our allies,” Trump said.

“For years the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and its ruthless Quds Force under Soleimani’s leadership has targeted, injured and murdered hundreds of American civilians and servicemen,” he said in his remarks.

He further said that the United States has the best military in the world.

Praising the country’s capability, he said, “We have the best intelligence in the world. If Americans anywhere are threatened, we have all of those targets already fully identified, and I am ready and prepared to take whatever action is necessary. And that, in particular, refers to Iran”.

“Under my leadership, we have destroyed the ISIS territorial caliphate, and recently American special operations forces killed the terrorist leader known as al-Baghdadi. The world is a safer place without these monsters.”

General Qasem Soleimani was among the eight people killed in a rocket attack by the US on Baghdad international airport early on Friday.

The IRGC said that Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the second-in-command of the Hashd Shaabi or the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), was also killed along with Soleimani in the strike that targeted their vehicle on the Baghdad International Airport road.

The White House in a statement said that at the direction of the President, the US military took a “decisive defensive action to protect US personnel abroad” by killing Qasem Soleimani, the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force, a US-designated Foreign Terrorist Organization.

It added that General Soleimani was “actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region”.

Since 1998, Maj Gen Soleimani led Iran’s Quds Force – the IRGC’s elite unit which handles clandestine operations abroad.

In that position, Gen Soleimani played a key role bolstering Bashar al-Assad’s Iranian-supported government in the Syrian Civil War, and in the fight against the Islamic State (IS) group in Iraq.

He was a hugely significant figure in the Iranian regime. His Quds Force reported directly to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.