AFP: The United States said Tuesday it had broken up a “chilling” plot planned high up in the Iranian government to assassinate the Saudi envoy to Washington and vowed to hold Tehran to account.
WASHINGTON, October 11, 2011 (AFP) – The United States said Tuesday it had broken up a “chilling” plot planned high up in the Iranian government to assassinate the Saudi envoy to Washington and vowed to hold Tehran to account.
In an explosive twist to the bitter US showdown with the Islamic Republic, the Justice Department charged two men with conspiring with Iranian government factions to blow up Saudi Ambassador Adel Al-Jubeir on American soil.
“The complaint alleges that this conspiracy was conceived, sponsored and directed from Iran and constitutes a flagrant violation of US and international law,” said US Attorney General Eric Holder.
The plot against Jubeir, known as Saudi King Abdullah’s closest advisor on foreign affairs, infringes a convention that “explicitly protects diplomats from being harmed,” he said.
“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,” he said.
An aide to Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad dismissed the allegations as a “prefabricated scenario” designed to “turn public attention away from domestic problems within the United States.”
As well as deepening the fury between Washington and Tehran, news of the plot could also sow even deeper distrust between fierce Gulf antagonists Iran and Saudi Arabia, amid the international standoff over Tehran’s nuclear program.
The criminal complaint named Manssor Arbabsiar, a 56-year-old naturalized US citizen holding both Iranian and US passports, and Gholam Shakuri, an Iran-based member of Iran’s Quds Force, a unit of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, in the plot.
Shakuri remains at large while Arbabsiar was arrested on September 29 at New York’s John F. Kennedy airport and was to appear in court later on Tuesday in Manhattan.
Holder said the alleged plot was “conceived, sponsored and directed from Iran.”
“This was directed and approved by elements of the Iranian government, and specifically, senior members of the Quds Force, which is a part of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and the Iranian military.
“High-up officials in those agencies … an integral part of the Iranian government, were responsible for this plot.”
The exact identity of the accused Iranian officials in the Quds force and the Iranian government, which Washington has already identified as a state sponsor of terrorism, was not clear.
It was not also immediately clear what kind of reprisals Washington would seek against Iran.
President Barack Obama was first briefed on an alleged Iranian plot to kill the Saudi ambassador in June, and ordered his aides to fully support the investigation, National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor said.
“The disruption of this plot is a significant achievement by our intelligence and law enforcement agencies, and the president is enormously grateful for their exceptional work in this instance and countless others.”
Robert Mueller, Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, said that the plot, which was disrupted before anyone was in imminent danger, had the capacity to have caused widespread loss of life.
“Though it reads like the pages of a Hollywood script, the impact would have been very real and many lives would have been lost,” Mueller said.
“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.”
The Justice Department said the plot was infiltrated by a member of the US Drug Enforcement Agency posing as a member of a Mexican drugs cartel.
Holder alleged that in a series of meetings, Arbabsiar acted as a go between in a plot which would turn into an international conspiracy by the Iranian government to pay $1.5 million to murder the ambassador.
Arbabsiar — with Shakuri’s approval — then facilitated the wiring of approximately $100,000 into a US bank account as a down payment for the assassination attempt, the complaint said.
The Justice Department said that since his arrest, Arbabsiar confessed to taking part in the plan and provided testimony about the role in the plot of elements of the Iranian government.
Preet Bharara, US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, said the plot was conceived with malice and with no care for civilians, and that the details were “chilling to say the least.”
He alleged that the confidential source named in the complaint had told one of the defendants that there could be 100 or 150 people in a fictional restaurant where a bombing could take place, and the defendant said “no problem and no big deal.”
“The complaint unsealed today reveals a well-funded and pernicious plot,” Bharara said.
Holder said that Washington would contact governments worldwide to brief them on the alleged plot.
“One thing that we will be doing is getting in touch with other of our allies and nations around the world to make them aware of what it is that was thwarted here,” he said.