Iranian Plot to Assassinate Saudi Ambassador on US Soil Stopped

Photo Courtesy of UN Photo/Marco Castro

An Iranian plot to assassinate the Saudi Arabian ambassador to the United States has been foiled by US law enforcement, it was revealed on Tuesday. The US Justice Department said in a press release on their website that the plot was approved by the Iranian Qods Force, a special operations branch of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

According to the Justice Department press release, naturalized US citizen Manssor Arbabsiar and Gholam Shakuri, an Iran-based member of Iran’s Qods Force, were accused of crimes in the plot to kill the Saudi ambassador with explosives inside US territory. Arbabsiar was arrested on September 29 at the New York JFK International Airport, while 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,” said Attorney General Eric Holder in the press release. “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.”

According to the US press release, Arbabsiar allegedly confessed to arranging the murder-for-hire plan. He said he was originally contacted in early spring of this year by his cousin, whom he understood was a senior member of the Qods Force, regarding recruiting drug-traffickers to kidnap the ambassador.

He said Shakuri and another senior Qods Force officials later approved a plot to kill the ambassador with explosives in a US restaurant, despite the risk for additional casualties.

Integral to American efforts to prevent the attack were the efforts of a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) confidential source who has posed as an international drug trafficking cartel associate. The source was ultimately hired along with a purported team to kill the ambassador. The Justice Department said Arbabsiar—when asked by the source—was unconcerned about possible American casualties in the planned restaurant bombing.

The press release said when the source “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.’”

The source was contacted regarding involvement in the plot in May. The source met with Arbabsiar in Mexico on May 24 and was asked as to his explosives capabilities, with Arbabsiar expressing interest in striking a Saudi embassy.  Later, in June and July, the Justice Department said Arbabsiar told the source his Iranian associates were interested in multiple “violent missions.” These included the assassination of the Saudi ambassador, which was to be done first.

The source said he needed a cell of four men for the assassination, and requested $1.5 million in payment. The US said Arbabsiar allegedly arranged with Shakuri’s approval for $100,000 to be wired to what proved to be an FBI undercover account as an initial payment for the source.

On September 20, the source told Arbabsiar he was ready. The press release said the source demanded either half the bounty up front or Arbabsiar’s presence in Mexico as “collateral.” Mexico denied Arbabsiar’s entrance to the country, sending him back to the New York JFK airport, where he has arrested.

Arbabsiar then called Shakuri at the direction of law enforcement, including last week on October 5. At that point Shakuri allegedly was apparently concerned about the timing for the attack, telling Arbabsiar to “do it quickly, it’s late.”

Iran denied involvement in the plot. The Iranian Fars News Agency quoted Foreign Ministry Spokesman Ramin Mehman-Parast as calling the allegations “prefabricated scenarios.”

A statement released by Saudi Arabia’s embassy to the US and posted on their website said, “The Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia would like to express its appreciation to the responsible agencies of the United States government for preventing a criminal act from taking place. The attempted plot is a despicable violation of international norms, standards and conventions and is not in accord with the principles of humanity.”

(By Joshua Spurlock,, October 11, 2011)