Iranians charged in U.S. plot to kill Saudi Arabian ambassador, bomb embassies
U.S. agents have foiled what has been called a “significant terrorist act” linked to Iran which called for the assassination of the Saudi Arabian ambassador to the U.S. as well as the bombing of the Israeli and Saudi embassies in Washington.
Injecting an explosive new element into the showdown between Washington and the Islamic Republic, the Justice Department charged two men with conspiring with factions of the Iranian government to carry out a deadly plot to blow up Saudi Ambassador Adel Al-Jubeir on American soil.
A criminal complaint, unsealed in federal court in New York City, identified two alleged plotters, Manssor Arbabsiar and Gholam Shakuri.
Both were originally from Iran and Arbabsiar is a naturalized U.S. citizen, it said.
Shakuri remains at large while Arbabsiar was arrested on September 29 at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport and was to make his initial appearance Tuesday in federal court in Manhattan.
He has confessed to plotting to kill the Saudi ambassador and provided information about involvement by factions of the Iranian government and faces a maximum potential sentence of life in prison if convicted of all the charges, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said at a press conference.
“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 Holder.
“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.”
Holder said the plot was “conceived, sponsored and directed from Iran.”
News reports said the plot also included a bomb and subsequent bomb attacks on the Saudi and Israeli embassies in Washington.
The case, called Operation Red Coalition, began in May when an Iranian-American from Corpus Christi, Texas, approached a U.S. informant seeking the help of a Mexican drug cartel to assassinate the Saudi ambassador, according to counter-terrorism officials.
The Iranian-American thought he was dealing with a member of the feared Zetas Mexican drug organization, according to agents quoted by ABC News.
The United States will now contact governments worldwide to brief them on the alleged Iranian 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,“ Holder said.
An aide to Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad denied the U.S. allegations that the Islamic republic was involved in a plot to kill the Saudi envoy.
“This is a prefabricated scenario to turn public attention away from domestic problems within the United States,” Ali Akbar Javanfekr, the president’s press adviser, told AFP.
The United States slapped economic sanctions on five Iranians including four senior members of the Quds.
Relations were already sour between between the Tehran and Washington, which accuses the Islamic republic of backing terrorism and pursuing nuclear arms, a charge Iran has denied.
Last month hopes were raised of improved ties when Iran released two U.S. hikers accused of spying when they were arrested on the Iran-Iraq border in 2009. Holder said there was no link between the hikers's case and the alleged plot.
Meanwhile Saudi Arabia said it will be expected to ‘take measures’ by its people.
“After this incident many in the kingdom will expect the kingdom to take measures, the least of which will be to pull the Saudi ambassador from Iran,” said Abdullah Alshammari, a government official in Riyadh. “In the opinion of Saudi decision makers, this situation is not going to pass easily.”
“There were always problems with Iran and Saudi Arabia, what is new now is that America is involved... The fact that the Saudi ambassador was the target in the United States, I believe this will mean the kingdom and the United States will take a joint decision together,” Alshammari said.
“An ambassador of the level of Adel Al-Jubeir, who was an adviser to the royal court, that is a great provocation for Saudi Arabia and therefore we expect that the kingdom will take steps in this matter.”