A Texas man claiming to follow orders from Iranian military officials pleaded guilty in court Wednesday to plotting to assassinate Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United States.
Manssor Arbabsiar, 58, admitted to plotting and agreeing to hire what he thought was a Mexican drug dealer last year for $1.5 million to carry out the attack with explosives at a Washington restaurant.
He was described by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara as ‘the extended murderous hand of his co-conspirators, officials of the Iranian military based in Iran, who plotted to kill the Saudi Ambassador in the United States and were willing to kill as many bystanders as necessary to do so.
Attorney General Eric Holder cited the efforts of law enforcement and intelligence agencies in disrupting ‘a deadly plot approved by members of the Iranian military to assassinate a sitting foreign ambassador on U.S. soil.’
Arbabsiar entered the plea to two conspiracy charges and a murder-for-hire count in U.S. District Court in Manhattan and the trial has been set for January.
A U.S. citizen who holds an Iranian passport, Arbabsiar faces up to 25 years in prison.
When the plot was uncovered last September, President Barack Obama’s administration accused agents of the Iranian government of being involved.
Bharara said Arbabsiar ‘was in telephone contact with his Iranian confederates while he brokered an audacious plot.
Arbabsiar admitted that he was directed by Iranian military officials to go to Mexico on multiple occasions from the spring to the fall last year to arrange the assassination.
Arbabsiar, who lived in Corpus Christie, Texas, for more than a decade, said he went to Mexico last year to meet a man named Junior, ‘who turned out to be an FBI agent.’
He said that he and others had agreed to arrange the kidnapping of the ambassador, Adel Al-Jubeir, but Junior said it would be easier to kill the ambassador.
Arbabsiar has been held without bail since he was arrested Sept. 29, 2011 at John F. Kennedy International Airport.
The government said in a news release that Arbabsiar had described to the Drug Enforcement Administration source how his cousin in Iran, a ‘big general’ in the Iranian military, had requested that Arbabsiar find someone to carry out the ambassador’s assassination.
It said Arbabsiar rejected as ‘no big deal’ the DEA’s worries about bystanders in a restaurant bombing, including the possibility that U.S. senators who dine there could be killed.
He was brought into court Wednesday in handcuffs. He spoke English and did not use a translator, despite saying he understood only about half of what he read in English.
Bearded and bespectacled, he smiled several times during the proceeding, including in the direction of courtroom artists who were seated in the jury box when he entered court.
Defense lawyers say Arbabsiar suffers from bipolar disorder.
Kim said that if the government had proceeded to trial, it would have presented a jury with secretly recorded conversations between Arbabsiar and a confidential source, along with Arbabsiar’s extensive post-arrest statement to authorities and emails and financial records.
Authorities have said they secretly recorded conversations between Arbabsiar and an informant with the Drug Enforcement Administration after Arbabsiar approached the informant in Mexico and asked his knowledge of explosives for a plot to blow up the Saudi embassy in Washington. They said Arbabsiar later offered $1.5 million for the death of the ambassador.
Arbabsiar admitted Wednesday that he eventually made a $100,000 down payment wired from an overseas account through a Manhattan bank.
After his arrest, Arbabsiar confessed that he was recruited, funded and directed by men he believed were senior officials in Iran’s Qods Force, a branch of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps that in 2007 was designated by the U.S. Treasury Department as a supporter of the Taliban and terrorist organizations, the government said.
Shakuri, also charged in the plot, remains a fugitive.
Iran formally complained to the U.S. last October over the claims that the Iranian government was involved in the plot to kill Adel Al-Jubeir.
The U.S. received a diplomatic note expressing displeasure with the charges. The complaint called on the U.S. to apologize publicly to Iran for the ‘material and moral damages’ caused by ‘this baseless accusation.’
It added that the accusations violated ‘international rules and regulations’ but that deception has become ‘a permanent part of statecraft in the U.S.’
The note was delivered through the Swiss embassy in Tehran, which represents U.S. interests in Iran since the two countries don’t have diplomatic relations.