The New York Times – By J. DAVID GOODMAN
Federal authorities foiled a plot by men linked to the Iranian government to kill the Saudi ambassador to the United States and to bomb the embassy of Saudi Arabia in Washington, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said in a news conference on Tuesday.
The men accused of plotting the attacks were Manssor Arbab Arbabsiar and Gholam Shakuri, according to court documents filed in federal court in the Southern District of New York. The Justice Department said men are originally from Iran.
There is “no basis to believe that any other co-conspirators are present in the U.S.,” Mr. Holder said.
He said the men were connected to the secretive Quds Force, a division of Iran’s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps that has carried out operations in other countries. He said that money in support of the plot had been transferred through a bank in New York, but that the men had not yet obtained any explosives.
The Justice Department said in a statement that Mr. Shakuri, a member of the Quds force, remained at large. Mr. Arbabsiar, a naturalized American citizen, was arrested on Sept. 29.
Mr. Holder said the Mexican government had been instrumental in the investigation.
Iran reacted immediately to the news, calling the accusations a fabrication.
Details offered by the Justice Department painted a picture of a dizzying international plot involving Mexican drug cartels, murder for hire and huge sums of money being transferred from unknown locations.
The department said in its criminal complaint that from the spring of this year, Mr. Arbabsiar conspired with Mr. Shakuri to plot the assassination of the Saudi ambassador to the United States, Adel A. Al-Jubeir.
According to the complaint, conspirators based in Iran were aware of and approved the plan, which involved hiring men connected to a Mexican drug cartel to carry out the killing.
The complaint alleges that those hired by the two men were in fact confidential sources of the Drug Enforcement Agency. They were later asked if they were knowledgeable in bomb-making, the complaint said, Mr. Arbabsiar “was interested in, among other things, attacking an embassy of Saudi Arabia.”
The criminal complaint filed on Tuesday accuses the men of conspiracy to murder a foreign official; conspiracy to engage in foreign travel and use interstate and foreign commerce facilities in the commission of murder-for-hire; conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction. specifically explosives; and conspiracy to commit an act of international terrorism.
ABC News, citing an unnamed official, reported that the plot also included plans to bomb the Israeli Embassy in Washington, as well as those belonging to Saudi Arabia and Israel in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
A spokesman for the National Security Council said that the plot had first been brought to President Obama’s attention earlier this year.
“The President was first briefed on this issue in June and directed his Administration to provide all necessary support to this investigation,” he said in a statement. “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.”
Abdullah Alshamri, a Saudi official in Riyadh, predicted the disclosure would send Iranian-Saudi relations to “their lowest point yet.” Though no government steps had been taken, he suggested that a diplomatic row was inevitable.
“We’re expecting from our government a serious and tough reaction to give a message to the Iranians that enough is enough,” he said by telephone. “If we keep our diplomatic ties with the Iranians, they will think we are weak and they will keep trying to attack us.”
He said this was only the latest Iranian attempt to attack Saudi diplomats.
“This is their hobby,” he said. “Iran has no respect for international law.”