Law enforcement agents say they successfully obtained a confession from an Iranian man who is charged in New York in a murder-for-hire plot to kill Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States.
Justice Department officials announced the charges today at a press conference in Washington, telling reporters that the man in custody, Manssor Arbabsiar, spoke to agents just hours after his arrest at an airport in New York on Sept. 29.
Law enforcement officials on the plane monitored Arbabsiar and moved in to arrest him after he got off the jet. The second suspect, identified in court papers as Gholam Shakuri, remains at large.
The authorities read Arbabsiar his rights, and he agreed to speak with agents, according to a complaint unsealed today in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. FBI Director Robert Mueller III today described the plot as resembling a Hollywood script.
“This case illustrates that we live in a world where borders and boundaries are increasingly irrelevant,” Mueller said. He continued, saying the individuals charged in the plot “had no regard for the rule of law.”
Arbabsiar’s conversations with a paid confidential informant form the heart of the criminal case, charging documents show. The authorities recorded the conversations, evidence now in the government’s case. Arbabsiar was charged with crimes that include conspiracy to murder a foreign official and conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction.
Law enforcement officials said Arbabsiar wanted to bomb a restaurant that the Saudi ambassador frequented. The cost for the assassination: $1.5 million. A wire transfer of $100,000 passed through a New York bank, giving that federal district court jurisdiction in the case, said U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara. Bharara called the plot “well-funded and pernicious.”
Arbabsiar allegedly told the confidential source that it was “no problem” or “no big deal” if civilians—including members of Congress—are killed in the attack on the restaurant.
“The details of that murder plot are chilling, to say the least, as the defendants allegedly had no care or concern about inflicting mass casualties on innocent Americans on American soil in furtherance of their assassination plan,” Bharara said.
Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. said “factions of the Iranian government” knew of and approved the attempted plot. Arbabsiar allegedly worked with members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. Holder called the plot a “flagrant” violation of U.S. law.
Holder said Justice and State Department officials will seek to hold Iran accountable for its alleged role in the plot. He declined to elaborate what actions the federal government is planning to take.
At the time of his arrest, Arbabsiar was carrying $3,900 in cash and passports from the United States and Iran.