Oct. 21 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. indicted two Iranian men on charges they attempted to use a weapon of mass destruction to assassinate Saudi Arabia’s ambassador in Washington.
Manssor Arbabsiar, 56, an Iranian-American car salesman living in Texas, and Gholam Shakuri, who the U.S. said was an Iran-based member of that country’s “Qods Force,” attempted to recruit a man posing as a member of a violent Mexican drug cartel as their assassin, according to a five-count indictment filed yesterday in U.S. District Court in Manhattan.
The recruited assassin was secretly working for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, prosecutors said when charges were announced Oct. 11. Others from the Qods Force in Iran were also involved and helped bankroll the plot, which was to have cost $1.5 million, according to a criminal complaint filed at the same time.
Both are accused by the federal grand jury of conspiring to commit a terrorist act that would “kill and maim persons within the United States and create a substantial risk of serious bodily injury to others by destroying and damaging structures, conveyances and other real and personal property.”
Arbabsiar could be sentenced to life in prison if convicted of all charges against him, prosecutors said.
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said yesterday that Arbabsiar is scheduled to be arraigned before U.S. District Judge John Keenan in New York on Oct. 24.
Sabrina Shroff, a lawyer for Arbabsiar, didn’t immediately respond to a voice-mail message seeking comment on the indictment. She has stated previously that her client intends to plead not guilty to the charges.
Shakuri is at large, the U.S. said. The U.S. State Department has described the Qods Force as an arm of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps that conducts “covert operations abroad” and has sponsored attacks against U.S. coalition forces in Iraq.
The indictment mirrors the criminal complaint, which was unveiled by Attorney General Eric Holder. The U.S. said Iran sponsored the plot to use a weapon of mass destruction, in this case C-4 plastic explosives, to murder Ambassador Adel Al-Jubeir and a second scheme to attack Saudi installations in the U.S.
‘Foreign Government Facilities’
Targets included “foreign government facilities associated with Saudi Arabia and with another country,” the U.S. said in the original complaint.
The plotters also targeted Israel’s embassy in Washington, as well as the embassies of Israel and Saudi Arabia in Argentina, according to a federal law enforcement official familiar with the matter.
The alleged plot was “directed and approved by elements of the Iranian government,” Holder said last week. “High-up officials in those agencies, which is an integral part of the Iranian government, were responsible.”
Iran said it “categorically” rejected the claim, which it described as an “evil plot.”
The case is U.S. v. Arbabsiar, 11-cr-892, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).
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