How We Got Here: A Timeline of Events Leading up to Iran’s Female Olympic Medalist’s Decision to Defect

In the past few weeks, tensions between the Iranian and American governments have escalated quickly. An embassy was broken into, missiles were fired, a plane has been shot down, and an Iranian athlete defected to the Netherlands. Here’s what you missed. 

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Robert F. Bukaty

Kimia Alizadeh Zenoorin, of Iran, celebrates after winning a bronze medal in women's 57-kg taekwondo competition at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Thursday, Aug. 18, 2016. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

Mary Ford, Staff Writer

December 29, 2019 11am EST: The United States strikes 5 facilities in Iraq and Syria connected to an Iranian-backed militia, Kataib Hezbollah, killing 24 militants.

December 31, 2019: Thousands of militia members gather outside the heavily guarded “Green Zone” in which the American embassy in Baghdad, Iraq lies, for prayer services for those killed in American airstrikes in Iraq. Later that day, protesters reached the gates of the American embassy, preached the walls, burned down a guard house, smashed windows, and chanted “Death to America.” At the time of the attack, the American ambassador was not at the embassy and no casualties were reported. 

January 1, 2020: President Trump deploys 750 marines who are stationed in Kuwait for emergency situations in the Middle East to Iraq to reinforce the embassy. Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, goes on Iranian state television condemning the United States’ attacks on Iranian-backed militias in Iraq. 

January 2, 2020: Oil prices surge following U.S. airstrikes in Iraq that killed senior Iraqi and Iranian militia officials. 

January 3, 2020: The Pentagon and Iranian government confirm that Major General Qassem Sulemani, the most senior military leader in Iran and leader of the Quds force, has been killed in an airstrike at the Baghdad airport alongside several other Iraqi commanders. President Trump deploys an additional 3,000 soldiers to Baghadad to reinforce the American embassy. 

January 4, 2020: Iranian people unite behind their leaders in their hate of the United States. Iranians take to the streets to protest the killing of Major General Qassim Soleimani. 

January 5, 2020: President Trump threatens to target Iranian cultural sites, in flagrant violation of international law. The United States questions some 60 odd Iranian-Americans returning from Canada at an airport in Washington state. The Iranian government declares it will abandon the limitations imposed upon them by the Iran Nuclear deal in 2015. 

January 6, 2020: Thousands of Iranians flood the streets of Tehran as the funeral for Major General Qassim Soleimani begins. 

January 7, 2020: A Ukraine-bound Boeing 737 jetliner crashes in Tehran seven minutes after takeoff. 82 Iranians, 63 Canadians, and 11 Ukrainians were identified in the wreckage. A stampede at Major General Qassim Soleimani’s funeral kills at least 50. 

January 8, 2020: President Trump addresses the nation following a tumultuous week of foreign policy decisions. International airlines including Air France, Lufthansa, and Emirates temporarily suspend all flights in an out of Iran. 

January 9, 2020: Evidence emerges that Iran may have shot down the jetliner with anti-aircraft missiles. The United States House of Representatives votes to limit the ability of President Trump to wage war against Iran.

January 10, 2020: Iran admits to shooting down the flight bound for Ukraine with a missile, citing human error. The United States imposes sanctions upon Iran following the missile strike in Iraq. American government officials announce that their drone strike on another senior member of the Iranian-backed Quds force stationed in Yemen, Abdul Reza Shailaih, was unsuccessful. 

January 11, 2020: Thousands of Iranians take to the streets, calling for the resignation of Khomeini after discovering that their government lied to them about downing the plane. 

January 13, 2020: In an interview with Global News TV, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says that if there weren’t any regional tensions, the Ukraine-bound flight would never have been shot down. Kimia Alizadeh, 21, Iran’s only female Olympic medalist defects to the Netherlands over the “lies” her government tells and “injustice” within her nation.