Originally Posted by Repulsor Blast
except mandarin was never mentioned in iron man 1 or 2. we who know that 10 rings = mandarin as leader via using such outside knowledge (comics) to skew what is actually presented in the films.
killian was working on extremis from 1999 to 2013, sometime after iron man 1, he appropriated the 10 rings logo, along with a bunch of other iconography, and formed the mandarin persona.
if iron man 1 had just one throwaway line about the mandarin then killian's line at the end of im3 would have expanded meaning, but sorry, i am not buying that he was in league with stane etc.
if killian was behind the hardships tony went through in the first movie, he would have let tony know in iron man 3. he would have gloated about it to no end.
The iron man 3 prequel does show a character sitting in front of a 10 ring flag being called "the mandarin" by a subservant as well as being updated on their recent attacks. This characters face is not revealed at the time, however clearly it was supposed to be Killian after seeing the events in the movie. So it is established that Killian is indeed leading this terrorist group rather than just stealing their symbols and creating a fake leader.