Accused Iranian operative charged in disrupted U.S. plot

Oct. 11, 2011 at 3:22 PM
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WASHINGTON, Oct. 11 (UPI) -- A naturalized U.S. citizen and an Iranian operative were charged Tuesday in an alleged plot to kill the Saudi ambassador to the United States.

"The complaint alleges that this conspiracy was conceived, sponsored and directed from Iran and constitutes a flagrant violation of U.S. and international law," U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said, "including a convention that explicitly protects diplomats from being harmed. 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."

Meanwhile, CNN reported Iranian officials strongly denied the accusation as a "fabrication."

A criminal complaint filed in Manhattan in New York charges Manssor Arbabsiar, a 56-year-old naturalized U.S. citizen holding Iranian and U.S. passports. Arbabsiar allegedly has confessed to his role after repeatedly being told of his Miranda rights, U.S. officials said.

Also charged was Gholam Shakuri, an Iran-based member of Iran's Qods Force, a special operations unit of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which U.S. officials say sponsors and promotes terror abroad. Shakuri remains at large.

"The criminal complaint unsealed today exposes a deadly plot directed by factions of the Iranian government to assassinate a foreign ambassador on U.S. soil with explosives," Holder said in Washington. "Through the diligent and coordinated efforts of our law enforcement and intelligence agencies, we were able to disrupt this plot before anyone was harmed. We will continue to investigate this matter vigorously and bring those who have violated any laws to justice."

Arbabsiar was arrested Sept. 29 at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport and was scheduled to make an initial appearance Tuesday in court in Manhattan. Arbabsiar faces a maximum potential sentence of life in prison if convicted of all the charges.

Both men are charged under U.S. law 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 also charged with an additional count of foreign travel and use of interstate and foreign commerce facilities in the commission of murder-for-hire.

The criminal complaint alleges that beginning last spring, Arbabsiar and his Iran-based co-conspirators, including Shakuri, have been plotting to kill the Saudi ambassador to the United States.

Arbabsiar allegedly met a number of times in Mexico with a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration confidential source who posed as an associate of a violent international drug trafficking cartel. Arbabsiar allegedly arranged to hire the undercover confidential source and his purported accomplices to kill the ambassador, and Shakuri and other Iran-based co-conspirators were aware of and approved the plan, U.S. Justice Department officials said.

With Shakuri's approval, Arbabsiar allegedly arranged for approximately $100,000 to be wired into a bank account in the United States as a down payment to the confidential source for the anticipated killing of the ambassador, which was to take place in the United States.

In a July 14 meeting in Mexico, the confidential source allegedly told Arbabsiar he would need to use four men to carry out the ambassador's murder and that his price for carrying out the murder was $1.5 million. Arbabsiar allegedly agreed and said the killing should be handled first, department officials said.

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