The Justice Department charged two men Tuesday with conspiring to kill the Saudi ambassador to Washington in a bomb plot sponsored by elements of the Iranian government.
One man, a naturalized American citizen, is in custody. The other, believed to be a member of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, is still at large, federal authorities said.
The White House has known of the investigation since June, an official said.
The organization involved in the plot is a “component”of the Tehran regime and Iranian military, Attorney General Eric Holder told reporters.
“High individuals in these agencies … were responsible for the plot,”he said.
Holder said the U.S. intends to hold Iran accountable for its actions.
Senior lawmakers said the plot should be a “wake-up call”for American action against Iran with further sanctions and an international coalition to confront the mullahs.
House Select Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) said it was “the latest in a series of aggressive actions — from their nuclear program to state sponsorship of terrorism, from complicity in killing our soldiers in Iraq to now plotting hostile acts on U.S. soil.”
“This episode underscores the need for concerted international unity to confront Iran,” Rogers said.
The plot was devised by Manssor Arbabsiar and Gholam Shakuri, the attorney general said.
A naturalized U.S. citizen, Arbabsiar was arrested Sept. 29 at New York’s John F. Kennedy airport. Shakuri, believed to be a member of the Revolutionary Guard, is the suspect still at large.
The Iranian government arm allegedly involved was the Quds Force, which “conducts sensitive covert operations abroad, including terrorist attacks, assassinations and kidnappings, and is believed to sponsor attacks against Coalition Forces in Iraq,”according to the Justice Department complaint.
Holder said the Justice Department worked with the State and Treasury departments and the White House on retaliatory measures against Iran.
Treasury announced new sanctions Tuesday against five people, including four senior Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force officers allegedly connected with the plot. The sanctions froze the assets of the five and prohibited any U.S. citizens from engaging with them.
“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 said.
Holder said that while there were no other foreign diplomats targeted in the assassination effort, the State Department would tell allies around the world “exactly what it is that was thwarted here today.”
“One has to be concerned about the chilling nature of what the Iranian government attempted to do here,”he added.
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, urged Congress and the White House to take action against Iran. She pointed to a bill she has introduced, the Iran Threat Reduction Act of 2011, which has nearly 300 co-sponsors and would strengthen sanctions against Iran.
“This revelation that Iran was actively plotting an attack on U.S. soil must serve as a wake-up call about the commitment of the Iranian regime to harm the U.S. and our interests and allies, and the expansive nature of Iran’s network,”the congresswoman said.
“Today’s news illustrates Iran’s active campaign to partner with extremist groups, drug traffickers and other outlaws based in the Western Hemisphere,”she said. “Tehran is actively working to attack our homeland and our allies and interests all around the world, and we simply can’t spare any more time. Responsible nations must unite against this threat and immediately bring to bear crippling pressure on the Iranian regime and its enablers.”
Holder said the two plotters met in Mexico with a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) confidential source posing as an associate of a violent international drug trafficking cartel.
The DEA informant was allegedly to be paid $1.5 million for the assassination plot, according to the five-count complaint, which also states that Arbabsiar has confessed to his role in the plot and says he sent $100,000 “from his Government of Iran co-conspirators, to the United States — as an initial payment to [the undercover agent] whom the defendant believed would carry out the murder of the ambassador.”
The complaint also says Arbabsiar met a DEA informant on May 24 in Mexico to discuss using explosives for the assassination. The source said that he was familiar with C-4 explosives. Arbabsiar reportedly said that the assassination had to happen, regardless of the number of casualties.
When the DEA source noted that others, including U.S. senators, could be killed by the bomb, Arbabsiar allegedly dismissed these concerns as “no big deal,”according to the Justice Department.
“They want that guy [the ambassador] done [killed], if the hundred go with him f--k ‘em,”Arbabsiar said, according to the complaint.
According to U.S. law enforcement officials, none of the alleged plotters were ever in possession of actual explosives.
Tommy Vietor, spokesman for the National Security Council, said President Obama had been kept apprised of the plot since June and called the disruption “a significant achievement.”
“The president was first briefed on this issue in June and directed his administration to provide all necessary support to this investigation,” Vietor said. “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.”
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) said that the terrorist plot makes clear that the world should not let Iran become a nuclear-armed country.
“Iran has shown the world once again it poses an existential threat to the world community. We must stand together and make it crystal-clear — we cannot, and will not, tolerate a nuclear Iran that would pose an even greater threat,” Gillibrand said.
“That is why Congress must pass the Iran, North Korea and Syria Sanctions Consolidation Act, my bipartisan legislation that increases economic pressure on Iran. Until Iran halts its nuclear ambitions, we must do everything in our power to enforce sanctions and choke them off from the global economy,” Gillibrand said.