Feds tie Iran to plot on Saudi diplomatBy TOM BRUNE AND JOHN RILEY
October 12, 2011
In a chilling plan that could have taken scores of American lives, Iranian-directed terror plotters offered $1.5 million to hire a Mexican drug cartel to kill the Saudi Arabian ambassador to the United States by bombing a Washington restaurant, federal officials charged Tuesday.
The foiled plot's potential for escalating tensions with a longtime U.S. adversary was underscored by Attorney General Eric Holder, who said at a Washington news conference to announce charges against two accused plotters that "factions of the Iranian government" were behind the conspiracy.
"This conspiracy was conceived, sponsored and directed from Iran and constitutes a flagrant violation of U.S. and international law," Holder said. "In addition to holding these individual conspirators accountable for their alleged role in this plot, the U.S. is committed to holding Iran accountable for its actions."
A criminal complaint filed in federal court in Manhattan against Manssor Arbabsiar, 56, a dual Iranian and U.S. citizen from Texas, and Gholam Shakuri, an Iranian, said the plot was set in motion and funded by the powerful Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps' Qods Force, which is suspected of sponsoring overseas terrorist activities.
Shakuri, an officer in the Qods Force, is in Iran. Arbabsiar, accused of trying to arrange the killing of Saudi Ambassador Adel al-Jubeir, 49, with a paid U.S. informant who he thought was a Mexican drug cartel associate, was arrested on Sept. 29 -- eight days after Iran released two U.S. hikers. He has been cooperating, officials said.
In one taped conversation in July, described in the complaint, the paid informant -- who had told Arbabsiar he had access to C-4 plastic explosives -- warned that a restaurant bombing could cause hundreds of casualties, including senators who ate at the eatery.
Arbabsiar is accused of saying it was "no problem" and "no big deal," and told the informant, "They want that guy [the ambassador] done, if the hundred go with him . . . ---- 'em. . . . It doesn't matter."
U.S. officials said they had been tracking the plot since May, and it also involved discussion of attacks on other Saudi and Israeli targets for a total pricetag of $5 million. President Barack Obama was briefed in June.
Arbabsiar, after his arrest, said he had discussed the plot with three Qods Force officers on visits to Tehran. Agents this month taped overseas calls with Shakuri in which Arbabsiar got the go-ahead. In one, Shakuri is accused of saying, "Just do it quickly, it's late."
The government did not publicly speculate on a motive for the plot. Officials said no actual explosives were ever acquired, and criminal charges were filed in New York because a $100,000 down payment for the killing was wired to a bank account in the city.
Iran, through its state-run Islamic Republic News Agency, said the charges were made up and part of a "propaganda campaign." Arbabsiar, in a brief appearance Tuesday in federal court in Manhattan, was detained and ordered to appear again Oct. 25. His lawyer did not return a call for comment.
Washington already has tough sanctions on Iran. The Qods Force -- accused of backing actions against U.S. troops in Iraq -- has previously been listed as a terrorist group.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the United States also would discuss measures with other nations to "further isolate" Iran. Long Island Republican
Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford), head of the House homeland security committee, said he thought more than economic sanctions was needed.