US authorities have charged two Iranians with conspiring to carry out terror attacks in the country and participating in a plot, allegedly directed by elements of the Iranian government, to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States.
A criminal complaint filed ON Tuesday in the Southern District of New York charges Manssor Arbabsiar, a 56-year-old naturalised US citizen holding both Iranian and US passports, and Gholam Shakuri, an Iran-based member of Iran's Qods Force, a special operations unit of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps that is said to sponsor and promote terrorist activities abroad.
The charges against the two include conspiracy to murder a foreign official, conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction 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.
While Shakuri remains at large, Arbabsiar was arrested on September 29 at New York's John F Kennedy International Airport. He will make his initial appearance today before in federal court in Manhattan and faces a maximum potential sentence of life in prison if convicted of all the charges.
"The criminal complaint unsealed today exposes a deadly plot directed by factions of the Iranian government to assassinate a foreign Ambassador on US soil with explosives," Attorney General Eric Holder said, announcing the charges.
The criminal complaint alleges that Arbabsiar and his Iran-based co-conspirators, including Shakuri began plotting the murder of the Saudi Ambassador early this year.
Arbabsiar allegedly met in Mexico with a DEA undercover
agent, who had posed as an associate of a violent international drug trafficking cartel. Arbabsiar arranged to hire the agent and his accomplices to murder the Ambassador.
With Shakuris approval, Arbabsiar allegedly wire transferred 100,000 dollars to a US bank account for the killing. The IRCG is an arm of the Iranian military that is composed of a number of branches, including the Qods Force.
The Qods Force conducts sensitive covert operations abroad, including terrorist attacks, assassinations and kidnappings, and is believed to sponsor attacks against Coalition Forces in Iraq.
In October 2007, the US Treasury Department designated the Qods Force for providing material support to the Taliban and other terrorist organiSations, the complaint said.
Arbabsiar also told the undercover agent that he was interested in attacking an embassy of Saudi Arabia. In a July 14 meeting in Mexico, the undercover agent allegedly told Arbabsiar that his price for carrying out the murder was $1.5 million.
Arbabsiar agreed and stated that the murder of the Ambassador should be handled first, before the execution of other attacks. He also described to the agent his cousin in Iran, who he said had requested that Arbabsiar find someone to carry out the Ambassador's assassination.
According to the complaint, Arbabsiar indicated that his cousin was a "big general" in the Iranian military; that he focuses on matters outside Iran and that he had taken certain unspecified actions related to a bombing in Iraq.
Arbabsiar had made it clear that the assassination needed to go forward, despite mass casualties, telling the agent "They want that guy (the ambassador) done (killed), even if "hundred" people were killed with him.
"As alleged, these defendants were part of a well-funded
and pernicious plot that had, as its first priority, the assassination of the Saudi Ambassador to the United States, without care or concern for the mass casualties that would result from their planned attack," said US Attorney Preet Bharara.
"Today's charges should make crystal clear that we will not let other countries use our soil as their battleground." The plot involved bombing a restaurant in the United States that the Ambassador frequented. When the agent noted that others could be killed in the attack, including US senators who dine at the restaurant, Arbabsiar allegedly dismissed these concerns as "no big deal".
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 the means by which the Ambassador would be killed in the United States and the casualties that would likely result.
Arbabsiar also told federal agents that his cousin, who he had long understood to be a senior member of the Qods Force, had approached him in the early spring of 2011 about recruiting narco-traffickers to kidnap the Ambassador. In October 2011, according to the complaint, Arbabsiar made phone calls at the direction of law enforcement to Shakuri in Iran that were monitored.
During these phone calls, Shakuri allegedly confirmed that Arbabsiar should move forward with the plot to murder the Ambassador and that he should accomplish the task as quickly as possible.