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NEW YORK ( MAYORS & CITIES ) — Authorities in the United States arrested a man last month who is accused of working with the Iranian government to assassinate the Saudi Arabian Ambassador to the U.S. during a bomb attack in Washington, D.C., prosecutors said on Tuesday.
Manssor Arbabsiar, a 56-year-old naturalized U.S. citizen holding both Iranian and U.S. passports, was arrested on September 29 at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport. His contact in Iran, Gholam Shakuri, has also been charged in connection with the plot but remains at large.
“The Department of Justice is announcing charges against two people who allegedly attempted to carry out a deadly plot that was directed by factions of the Iranian government to assassinate a foreign ambassador here in the United States,” said Attorney General Eric Holder during a press conference on Tuesday.
According to a criminal complaint filed in the Southern District of New York, Arbabsiar is alleged to have orchestrated a $1.5 million assassination plot with Shakuri, an Iranian-based member of the Qods Force, and other Iranian co-conspirators. The Qods Force is a special operations unit of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) which is accused of sponsoring and promoting terrorist activities abroad.
According to the allegations, Arbabsiar and his co-conspirators in Iran plotted the murder of the Saudi Ambassador to the United States, Adel al-Jubeir, between May 2011 and October 2011. He met on a number of occasions in Mexico with a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agent who was posing as an associate of a violent international drug trafficking cartel.
“The [first] meeting, which took place in May in Mexico, was the first of a series that would result in an international conspiracy by elements of the Iranian government to pay the informant $1.5 million to murder the Ambassador on U.S. soil, according to documents we filed today in court,” Holder said. “According to the complaint, those discussions led Arbabsiar – with Shakuri’s approval – to facilitate the wiring of approximately $100,000 into a bank account in the United States as a down payment for the attempted assassination.”
The complaint alleges that Arbabsiar met with the undercover DEA agent in Mexico on May 24 where Arbabsiar inquired as to the agent’s knowledge with respect to explosives and explained that he was interested in, among other things, attacking an embassy of Saudi Arabia.
In the following weeks, in June and July, Arbabsiar returned to Mexico and held additional meetings with the agent during which he allegedly explained that his contacts in Iran had discussed a number of violent missions for the agent and his associates to perform, including the murder of Ambassador Adel al-Jubeir.
On July 14, while meeting in Mexico, the undercover agent told Arbabsiar that he would need four men to carry out the Ambassador’s murder and that his price to carry out the assassination was $1.5 million. Arbabsiar allegedly agreed and stated that the murder of the Ambassador should be handled first, before the execution of other attacks.
During the same meeting, according to the court documents, Arbabsiar also told the agent that his cousin is a ‘big general’ in the Iranian military who focuses on matters outside Iran and that he had taken certain, unspecified actions related to a bombing in Iraq. The Iranian government has previously been accused of funding and supporting attacks in Iraq.
Several days later, on July 17, the agent told Arbabsiar that one of his workers had already traveled to Washington, D.C. to surveill the Ambassador. He also raised the possibility of innocent bystanders being killed, but Arbabsiar allegedly urged the agent to go forward despite the likelihood of mass casualties.
“They want that guy done, if the hundred go with him fuck ’em,” Arbabsiar allegedly told the agent when discussing the plan to carry out a bomb attack on a restaurant which the Ambassador frequently visits. When the agent noted that U.S. Senators who dine at the restaurant could also be killed, Arbabsiar allegedly said that would be “no big deal.”
On August 1 and August 9, with Shakuri’s approval, Arbabsiar caused two overseas wire transfers totaling approximately $100,000 to be sent to an FBI undercover account as a down payment for the DEA agent to carry out the assassination. Arbabsiar later explained to the agent that he would pay the remainder of the $1.5 million after the assassination was carried out.
Nearly two months later, on September 20, the DEA agent informed Arbabsiar that the operation was ready and requested that Arbabsiar either pay one half of the agreed upon price for the murder or that Arbabsiar personally travel to Mexico as collateral for the final payment of the fee. According to the complaint, Arbabsiar agreed to travel to Mexico to guarantee final payment for the murder.
Just over a week later, on September 28, Arbabsiar flew to Mexico which triggered an arrest warrant to be issued. “The aforementioned arrest warrant triggered an immigration alert by Mexico’s National Migration Institute (INM) in accordance with the established procedures,” the Mexican government said in a statement.
Because of the arrest warrant, Arbabsiar was denied entry into Mexico and returned to the starting point of his journey. “In strict compliance with domestic and international law, Mexico was able to neutralize a significant risk to Mexico’s national security, while at the same time reinforcing bilateral and reciprocal cooperation with the United States,” the Mexican government said.
The next day, upon his arrival at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport, Arbabsiar was arrested by federal agents. According to court documents, he allegedly confessed to his participation in the murder plot during interviews.
According to the complaint, Arbabsiar also admitted to agents that, in connection with this plot, he was recruited, funded, and directed by men he understood to be senior officials in Iran’s Qods Force. He allegedly said these Iranian officials were aware of and approved of the use of the DEA agent in connection with the plot, the payments to the the agent, the means by which the Ambassador would be killed in the United States and the casualties that would likely result.
Both Arbabsiar and Shakuri have been charged with conspiracy to murder a foreign official, conspiracy to engage in foreign travel and use of interstate and foreign commerce facilities in the commission of murder-for-hire, conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction (explosives), and conspiracy to commit an act of international terrorism transcending national boundaries. Arbabsiar is further charged with an additional count of foreign travel and use of interstate and foreign commerce facilities in the commission of murder-for-hire.
After the details of the alleged plot were made public, U.S. President Barack Obama called Ambassador Adel al-Jubeir to underscore that the U.S. government believes the plot to be a ‘flagrant violation’ of U.S. and international law. Obama also attended a meeting of his national security team to discuss the alleged plot and thank law enforcement and intelligence agencies.
Meanwhile, the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia in Washington, D.C. expressed its appreciation to the agencies of the U.S. government. “The attempted plot is a despicable violation of international norms, standards and conventions and is not in accord with the principles of humanity,” the Embassy said in a statement.