A plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States has been thwarted by American law enforcement.
Manssor Arbabsiar, a 56-year-old naturalized U.S. citizen from Iran was arrested on September 29, 2011 and charged on October 11, 2011 with conspiracy to commit an act of terrorism and conspiracy to murder a foreign official, among other charges. Gholam Shakuri, a member of the Quds Force of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps who remains at large, was also charged.
The Quds force is the special operations branch of the Revolutionary Guards and primary mechanism for supporting terrorist activity outside of Iran. In 2007, the Department of the Treasury added the Quds Force to its list of organizations supporting terrorism, freezing its assets in the U.S. and prohibiting Americans from transacting with it.
According to court documents, Arbabsiar was tasked by his cousin, Abdul Reza Shahlai, a member of the Quds Force who was previously sanctioned by the Department of the Treasury for threatening the stability of Iraq, with finding someone to carry out the assassination of Saudi Ambassador Adel al-Jubeir.
In May 2011, Arbabsiar, who traveled frequently to Mexico, made contact with an undercover Drug Enforcement Agency source posing as a member of the Zeta drug cartel and asked him to arrange the assassination. Arbabsiar and the source agreed that the assassination would be carried out in exchange for $1.5 million. In addition, the two allegedly arranged a side-deal for opium distribution in Mexico. Two separate payments totaling nearly $100,000 were wired from accounts originating in Iran and passing through a third country as a down payment for the operation.
In recorded conversations with the source, Arbabsiar expressed a total disregard for other casualties in the planned bomb attack targeting the ambassador. He reportedly said that it would be “no problem” and “no big deal” if 100 to 150 bystanders, including politicians, were killed in the attack. He reported that his handlers “want that guy done, if the hundred go with him, f*** ‘em.”
In late September 2011, Arbabsiar attempted to travel to Mexico to offer himself as collateral pending the transfer of the remainder of the $1.5 million. Arbabsiar was denied entry to Mexico and placed on flight to JFK International Airport, where he was arrested upon landing.
Arbabsiar has been cooperating with authorities since his arrest. He has apparently confirmed all recorded conversations with the source and admitted that he was recruited by men he believed to be members of the Quds Force, who approved the plan to assassinate the ambassador. He also maintained contact with Shakuri during his detention at the direction of law enforcement.
According to initial media reports, U.S. officials have said that Arbabsiar and the Quds Force also discussed targeting both the Saudi and Israeli embassies in Washington and Argentina.
Arbabsiar faces life in prison if convicted of all charges.