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Iranians Behind U.S. Terror Plot
Iranian plot to kill Saudi ambassador thwarted, U.S. officials say - CNN.com
U.S. agents have disrupted an Iranian assassination-for-hire scheme targeting Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said Tuesday. Elements of the Iranian government directed the alleged plan, Holder said.
A naturalized U.S. citizen holding Iranian and U.S. passports and a member of Iran's Revolutionary Guard face conspiracy charges connected with the plot.
"In addition to holding these individual conspirators accountable for their alleged role in this plot, the United States is committed to holding Iran accountable for its actions," Holder told reporters.
A spokesman for Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said the Iranian government was awaiting details about the accusations, but he described them as a "fabrication" by U.S. authorities attempting to distract American citizens.
"They want to take the public's mind off the serious domestic problems they're facing these days and scare them with fabricated problems outside the country," spokesman Ali Akbar Javanfekr said.
The Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia in Washington issued a statement Tuesday thanking U.S. authorities for stepping in.
"The attempted plot is a despicable violation of international norms, standards and conventions and is not in accord with the principles of humanity," the embassy's statement said.
The Saudi ambassador was not the only intended target, U.S. officials said. Suspects also discussed attacking Israeli and Saudi embassies in Washington and possibly Buenos Aires, Argentina, a senior U.S. official said.
It is unclear why Iran targeted the Saudi ambassador, the senior U.S. official said, or how widespread knowledge or approval of the plot was within Ahmadinejad's government.
Holder repeatedly referred to those responsible as "factions" and "elements" of the Iranian government.
U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, later told CNN he was confident the plan was sanctioned by the Iranian government.
"The quickness of the decisions that were made in order for certain elements of this to fall into place tells us that it is clearly tied to the highest levels of the Iranian government," he said.
Manssor Arbabsiar, a 56-year-old naturalized U.S. citizen, and Gholam Shakuri, an Iran-based member of Iran's Revolutionary Guard, are charged with conspiracy to murder a foreign official, conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction and conspiracy to commit an act of terrorism, an FBI agent's affidavit released Tuesday alleged.
Arbabsiar was arrested in September. Shakuri remains at large, the FBI said.
Authorities developed the case against them with the help of an undercover informant posing as an associate of a Mexican drug cartel, officials and court documents said.
The two were in a group that began planning this spring to kill Saudi Ambassador Adel Al-Jubeir, the affidavit said.
Arbabsiar and the undercover informant allegedly discussed using explosives to kill the ambassador and possibly attacking a crowded restaurant, according to the affidavit.
The informant named $1.5 million as his price, court documents said. Arbabsiar allegedly sent $100,000 intended as a down payment, court documents said.
The alleged plot read "like the pages of a Hollywood script," but the implications were real, FBI Director Robert Mueller said.
"This case illustrates that we live in a world where borders and boundaries are increasingly irrelevant -- a world where individuals from one country sought to conspire with a drug-trafficking cartel in another country to assassinate a foreign official on United States soil," he said.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Tuesday that additional actions to further isolate the Iranian regime will be considered.
A U.S. official said Tuesday that the United States will also be taking up the issue with the U.N. Security Council and other members of the international community, the official said.
Shortly after U.S. authorities released details of the accusations Tuesday, the U.S. Treasury Department announced sanctions targeting Arbabsiar, Shakuri and three others tied to the alleged plot.
In the affidavit, Woloszyn alleged the case involves a branch of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps that is suspected of being involved in a number of foreign operations.
The branch, the Quds Force, is accused by U.S. officials of sponsoring attacks against U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq, and in October 2007, the Treasury Department designated it as "providing material to the Taliban and other terrorist organizations," the affidavit said.
Often considered regional rivals, the oil-rich Saudi kingdom has been at odds with Iran.
The country's Sunni leaders have at times discussed directly intervening in Iraq following the U.S. military withdrawal, according to a Council on Foreign Relations report. Iran has largely supported Shiite militias in Iraq.
A spokesman for Iran's foreign ministry said Tuesday that relations with Saudi Arabia are "based on mutual respect," the semi-official Mehr news agency reported.
"Making such false allegations will not get anywhere and will not influence public opinion," said spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast, according to Mehr.
But Saudi security forces are now concerned that Iran may try to stir unrest during the upcoming Haj pilgrimage season in Saudi Arabia, said a senior Saudi adviser not authorized to speak to the media.
"We are on our toes. We expect the worst and we think Iranians are capable of using any person from any country to stir trouble during Haj season," the Saudi adviser said.
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