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Twitter suspends fake Khamenei account over image of attack on Trump-like golfer

Suspension comes as Iranian leader's critics call for his removal from platform over repeated violent threats
The apparent image of Trump, who left office on Wednesday, showed him playing golf under the shadow of a drone or warplane (Twitter)

A Twitter account claiming to represent Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei was suspended on Friday after it carried the image of a golfer resembling former US President Donald Trump under the shadow of a warplane or drone.

The image, which was not posed on Khamenei's 12 main language accounts but by the handle @khamenei_site, appeared to have been taken from Khamenei's official website, which the supreme leader's official Twitter accounts have links to.

The post also carried remarks made by Khamenei in December, in which he warned "Revenge is certain," renewing a vow of vengeance ahead of the first anniversary of the killing of General Qassem Soleimani in a US drone attack in Iraq.

"Those who ordered the murder of General Soleimani as well as those who carried this out should be punished. This revenge will certainly happen at the right time," Khamenei's official account tweeted on 16 December, without naming Trump, who had ordered the strike.

In response to a request for comment from The Associated Press, a Twitter spokesman said the tweet violated the company's "abusive behaviour policy," and that the account had violated its "manipulation and spam policy, specifically the creation of fake accounts."

'American troops cannot protect him'

According to Reuters, the golfer image tweet was retweeted by Khamenei's main Persian-language account @Khamenei-fa, although it appeared to have been deleted later.

The text and graphic of the tweet later carried by Khamenei's official website (farsi.khamenei.ir) was also widely quoted by Iranian media.

Khamenei's @Khamenei_fa account and his main Twitter account in English, which did not carry the golfer image tweet, were still operational.

An official close to Khamenei’s inner circle said: "The aim [of the tweet] was to remind the gambler [Trump] that leaving office does not mean he will be safe and the assassination of our martyr Soleimani will be forgotten."

"And now, American troops cannot protect him,” the official, who asked not to be named, told Reuters without elaborating.

Emily Horne, a spokeswoman for US President Joe Biden's White House National Security Council, said "these kinds of threats from Iran are unacceptable".

"We strongly condemn this provocative action. We will continue to work with our friends and partners to counter Iran’s malign influence," she said in response to a request for comment from Reuters.

Vaccine controversy

Earlier this month, Twitter removed a tweet on Khamenei's English account in which he said US and British-made vaccines were unreliable and may be intended to "contaminate other nations". 

The platform said that tweet violated its rules against misinformation.

Some critics questioned why Twitter had not suspended Khamenei's account, which has previously called for the destruction of Israel, given Trump's own account was suspended earlier this month after he encouraged protests against the US presidential election results.

Shortly after Trump's remarks, his supporters stormed the US Capitol, leaving five people dead.

Tensions have spiked between Tehran and Washington since 2018, when Trump exited a 2015 deal between Iran and six world powers that sought to curb Tehran's nuclear programme. 

Washington reimposed sanctions that have crippled Iran's economy.

Iran called for action and "not just words" shortly after Joe Biden was sworn in as US president on Wednesday. 

Biden has said Washington will rejoin the nuclear deal if Iran resumes strict compliance.