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Iran 'tried to hire Mexican drug cartel to kill diplomat'

The Obama administration said it has foiled a plot by Iranian agents to blow up the Saudi ambassador to the US.

Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad speaking in Tehran last week
Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad speaking in Tehran last week
Image: Vahid Salemi/AP/Press Association Images

IRANIAN GOVERNMENT agents plotted to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the US by hiring experts from Mexican drug cartels, the Obama administration has said.

Two people, including a member of Iran’s special operations unit known as the Quds Force, were charged in New York federal court today. Justice Department officials say the pair were working with a person they thought was an associate of a Mexican drug cartel to target the Saudi diplomat, Adel Al-Jubeir.

But their contact was an informant for the Drug Enforcement Agency who told US authorities about all their planning.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told the Associated Press: “The idea that they would attempt to go to a Mexican drug cartel to solicit murder-for-hire to kill the Saudi ambassador, nobody could make that up, right?”

FBI Director Robert Mueller said many lives could have been lost in the plot to kill the ambassador with bombs in the US. But Preet Bharara, the US attorney in Manhattan, said no explosives were actually placed and no one was in any danger because of the informant’s cooperation with authorities.

Alizreza Miryusefi, the press attache at Iran’s mission to the United Nations, said Tuesday that the accusation was “totally baseless” and that a full statement would be issued shortly.

Manssor Arbabsiar, a 56-year-old US citizen who also holds an Iranian passport, was charged along with Gholam Shakuri, who authorities said was a Quds Force member and is still at large in Iran.

Court documents

The complaint filed in federal court says Arbabsiar confessed that his cousin, Abdul Reza Shahlai, was a high-ranking member of the Quds Force who told him to hire someone in the narcotics business to target Al-Jubeir and that Shakuri was his cousin’s deputy who helped provide funding for the plot.

Arbabsiar, Shakuri and Shahlai and two others were sanctioned Tuesday by the Treasury Department for their involvement in the alleged plot.

Justice Department officials say Arbabsiar approached the DEA informant in Mexico to ask about his knowledge of explosives for a plot to blow up the Saudi embassy in Washington. But through subsequent conversations in English, secretly recorded for U.S. authorities, Arbabsiar offered $1.5 million for the death of the ambassador, perhaps at a purported favorite restaurant of his despite the possibility of mass casualties.

Asked whether the plot was blessed by the top echelons of the Iranian government, Holder said the Justice Department was not making that accusation.

Arbabsiar did not know he was trying to hire a DEA informant to carry out the plot, prosecutors said. Posing as an associate of a Mexican drug cartel, the informant met with Arbabsiar several times in Mexico, authorities said. The price tag was $1.5 million and Arabsiar made a $100,000 down payment wired from an overseas account.

Arbabsiar was arrested Sept. 29 at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport. He was scheduled to appear in federal court Tuesday. Prosecutors said he faces up to life in prison if convicted.

Prosecutors said Arbabsiar has confessed to his participation in the murder plot.

President Barack Obama was first briefed on the plot in June, said White House spokesman Tommy Vietor.

“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,” Vietor said.

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