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Holder: U.S. Thwarts Alleged Assassination Plot


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Guy Raz.


And I'm Robert Siegel. The U.S. has thwarted an Iranian government plot to murder Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States. That's according to Attorney General Eric Holder, who said today that agents of Iran's Revolutionary Guards Corps conspired with an Iranian American in a murder-for-hire plot. They allegedly proposed to pay $1.5 million for the assassination of the Saudi ambassador. Attorney General Holder says two men have been charged in connection with the plot.

ERIC HOLDER: 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.

SIEGEL: Now, for more details, we're joined by NPR's Tom Gjelten. And, Tom, a very dramatic story here. FBI Director Robert Mueller says it sounds like a Hollywood script and it sort of does.

TOM GJELTEN, BYLINE: It sure does, Robert. Here are the essential elements, according to the U.S. government. Several months ago, apparently, an Iranian-American named Manssor Arbabsiar met with a paid informant who was posing as a drug trafficker for a Mexican drug cartel. And according to the Justice Department's complaint, Arbabsiar told this guy that he had associates back in Iran who wanted the drug cartel to arrange for the murder of the Saudi ambassador here in Washington. The informant reported that conversation to the government and then over the next several months, according to the complaint, he met several times again with Mr. Arbabsiar. This Iranian-American allegedly said he was acting on the instructions of an Iranian cousin whom he later linked to the Quds Force, which, of course, is a major part of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps.

SIEGEL: And that is the connection to the Iranian government that's alleged here?

GJELTEN: Exactly, Robert. The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps is a key part of the Iranian government and this plot allegedly involved what Eric Holder described as high-up individuals in those circles. In fact, the Treasury Department, this afternoon, named four senior members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard as coordinating this operation. The U.S. is not, we should say, alleging that upper reaches of the Iranian government were in on this conspiracy. And there's no mention of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, for example. But at one point today, Eric Holder did refer, in his words, quote, "to what the Iranian government attempted to do here."

SIEGEL: Now, the Iranians have called this a fabrication, someone called it a distraction to keep Americans from thinking about our domestic problems. How convincing is the evidence of Iran's involvement here?

GJELTEN: We really don't know. All we have to go on is the complaint, which is really only meant to support the indictment of these two individuals, Mr. Arbabsiar and his associate. And then we have this subsequent statement from the Treasury Department. Now, Mr. Arbabsiar has apparently told investigators the Iranian government was involved. And there were allegedly two money transfers totaling about $100,000 wired from some foreign bank, not an Iranian bank but one apparently with links to Iran. That's all we know but, of course, there could be intelligence behind this allegation that we don't see in the complaint.

SIEGEL: What do we know about how far this plot actually went, or at least how far its alleged to have gone?

GJELTEN: Well, the Iranian-American, who, by the way, was arrested two weeks ago, and has allegedly been cooperating with the government, he apparently said he was interested in financing a bombing plot. So, now, Robert, just to review the characters, we have this Iranian-American, we have his cousin back in Iran, we have the DEA informant who the Iranians think is representing a Mexican drug cartel, and we have the Saudi ambassador. Robert, let me read from the complaint because it's really dramatic.

The drug trafficker says, I don't know what exactly your cousin wants me to do. After some further conversation, Arbabsiar replies, he wants you to kill this guy. The informant then says, there's gonna be, like, American people there. He's talking about bombing a restaurant. He explains that blowing up the restaurant would cause mass casualties, maybe 100 and Mr. Arbabsiar allegedly says, it doesn't matter.

SIEGEL: Doesn't matter. We heard Attorney General Holder, by the way, that the U.S. would hold Iran accountable. Do we know what that means?

GJELTEN: Well, the only thing we know so far – Secretary of State Hillary Clinton came out and said she'll be consulting, the U.S. government will be consulting with allies to send a strong message. There will be additional sanctions. That's all we know. No threat of military action, by the way.

SIEGEL: Thank you, Tom.

GJELTEN: You're welcome.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's Tom Gjelten. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.