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Homeland Security

US Thwarts Alleged Iranian Plot on Saudi Envoy

David Gollust | State Department October 11, 2011

The U.S. Justice Department says it has broken up a plot involving an elite Iranian military unit to assassinate Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Washington. An Iranian-born U.S. citizen is in custody in connection with the alleged plot, for which the Iranian government denies involvement.

The alleged plot, detailed in charges filed in U.S. federal court in New York and later by Attorney General Eric Holder, marks a major escalation in long-standing U.S. charges of Iranian involvement in terrorism.

According to the court papers, an Iranian-born American citizen approached a U.S. government informant in Texas seeking the help of a Mexican drug cartel in killing the Saudi ambassador to Washington.

The Iranian-American, identified as Manssor Arbabsiar, has been in U.S. custody since late last month and is said to have confessed to his role in the plot.

The U.S. legal complaint says Arbabsiar conspired with Gholam Shakuri, an Iranian based official of the elite Quds Force of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps.

At a news conference, Attorney-General Eric Holder said the two accused men offered the U.S. informant $1.5-million to carry out a bomb attack on the Saudi envoy, and that a down payment of $100,000 was wired to the United States.

Holder said the complaint says the plot was conceived, sponsored and directed from Iran and constitutes a flagrant violation of U.S. and international law.

“In addition to holding these individual conspirators accountable for their alleged role in this plot, the United States is committed to holding Iran accountable for its actions," said Holder. "Arbabsiar and Shakuri are charged with conspiracy to murder a foreign official, conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction, and conspiracy to commit an act of international terrorism, among other charges.”

The United States had already listed the Quds Force as a terrorist organization and designated several of its leading members for U.S. sanctions. Tuesday’s charges, though, mark the first time that the elite organization has specifically been accused of plotting a terrorist act in the United States.

Holder did not say what the United States will do, specifically, to hold Iran accountable but said the White House and State Department would have more to say on that within a matter of hours.

He said the plot was directed by senior officials of the Revolutionary Guards Corps and the Iranian military, which oversee the Quds Force. But he he said the United States is not alleging “at this point” that Iran’s senior political leadership was involved.

Justice Department officials said while money was forwarded from Iran as an initial payment for the bomb attack that was to kill Saudi envoy Adel al-Jubeir, no explosives were purchased and no one was actually endangered.

Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Robert Mueller, however, said the conspirators did not seem concerned about the potential for mass casualties.

“Though it reads like the pages of a Hollywood script, the impact would have been very real, and many lives would have been lost. These individuals had no regard for their intended victim, no regard for innocent citizens who might have been hurt or killed in this attempted assassination.”

Iran immediately denied involvement in the alleged plot, with a spokesman for President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad dismissing the allegations as a fabrication aimed at distracting attention from U.S. economic problems.

The Iranian news agency IRNA called it part of a new American “propaganda scenario” against Tehran.

The United States already has extensive sanctions against Iran, with which it has not had diplomatic ties since 1979. Officials here indicated the alleged plot would spur new efforts with U.S. allies and at the United Nations to isolate Tehran.

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