United States Foils Iranian-linked Assassination Plot On Saudi Ambassador
United States announced on Tuesday that it has foiled an attempt to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to Washington, accusing Iran to have ties with the attack, which would be one of the first instances when Iran is accused of organizing terrorist activity on American soil.
Prosecutors said that two men, one of which is an Iranian-born U.S. citizen, living in Texas used Iranian money to hire a Mexican cartel member to kill the ambassador.
According to the U.S. Attorney General, members of Iranian Quds Force, which is part of the Revolutionary Guard that has been leading Iran since 1970s, when it toppled the emperor Reza Pahlavi, were related to this plan.
The United States announced that Iran would be considered responsible for the crime and that renewed sanctions would be placed on it. The spokesman for Iran’s mission said that they rejected categorically any implication in this event.
Late Tuesday, the Iranian ambassador to the United Nations issued a letter to the secretary general in which he expressed the Iranian “outrage” at the allegations referring to this assassination plot.
The Saudi Arabian embassy in Washington issued a brief statement in which it condemned the violation of international norms, standards and conventions.
The main suspect of the bombing was arrested on September 29, after months of surveillance of his activity. His name is Manssor Arbabsiar, he is a 56-year-old naturalized American, and several charges were brought against him, while the other, Gholam Shakuri, is a member of the Quds Force in Iran and is believed to have fled to Iran.
Arbabsiar is said by the prosecutors to have met earlier this year a Drug Enforcement Administration informant, who agreed to cooperate with the government in exchange for the dismissal of the charge brought against him by a federal state.
As a result of this meeting, the prosecution was able to set up a sting operation in which they found out that the Iranians were planning to place a bomb at the hotel the Saudi Arabian ambassador was frequenting.
The plotters were also engaged in plans to bomb the Saudi and Israeli embassies in Washington, and the Israeli embassy in Argentina. Since May, Arbabsiar has had multiple contacts with people he believed were members of the Mexican drugs cartels, but were in fact governmental agents.
In August he wired $100,000 down payment to an address he believed to be of the drug cartel people. The money arrived in an US-government-controlled account.
Prosecution says that during the sting operation, the Iranian man told the American undercover agents that his cousin was a high-ranked Iranian military. Arbabsiar was brought before judges on Tuesday, and waved his right to have the criminal complaint against him read in public. He is expected to plead not guilty and will appear on a preliminary court hearing on October 25.
It is said by the prosecution that the Iranian had expressed his opinion that it would be better to kill the ambassador in a single shot, but that he added that in case such thing was impossible and an entire restaurant should be blown up for that purpose, it was, in his opinion, “no big deal.”
After the arrest, the man announced that he was ready to cooperate with the FBI, and made a phone call to Tehran where he spoke to the other conspirator.
Prosecution said that the president of the United States Barack Obama was informed about the plot in June, and has been monitoring the developments since then. It was not clear for the prosecution to which levels of power in Iran the plot was known, neither who had ordered it.
Still, the Saudis consider that the attack was meant to prejudice the King of Saudi Arabia himself, given that the ambassador, Adel al-Jubeir, was a close adviser to the king. Al-Jubeir is one of the few non-royal trusted higly officials of the Saudi kingdom, was educated in the West, and has been entrusted by the king with carrying very sensitive correspondence with the White House.
Iranian authorities accused the United States of wanting to create an adversity between the most important countries of the Middle East, against the background of the important changes that are taking place in the region as a result of the Arab Spring.
Iran and Saudi Arabia are religious enemies and economic competitors, considering that one of the countries, Iran, is dominated by the Shia version of Islam, while the other has a Sunni majority. More than that, both are main oil exporters.
During the Arab Spring, the Shia population of Bahrain revolted against their Sunni royal family and demanded more rights. On that occasion, the Saudi Arabia led a military intervention in the small neighboring kingdom, which brought peace and allowed the royals in Bahrain to develop a way to understand with their people.
The growing competition between the two countries can also be seen in the late attempt to stir the Shiite population in the Saudi kingdom against their ruler, which happened last year, when the Saudi security service had to warn the people in those parts of the country not to let themselves involved in operations that would put their loyalty to the state in question.
If Iranian structures are behind the assassination attempt, it could mean that they wanted to create a rift between Saudi Arabia and their powerful ally in the region, the United States, provided that the attack would have gone as planned and the perpetrators could not have been traced back to Tehran.
Saudi Arabia has its own set of fears regarding the nuclear ambitions of Iran, especially at a time when the American troops have left Iraq. In turn, Iran feels the competition with Saudi Arabia in the oil export, where Saudi Arabia manages to sell much more crude oil that its competitor.
The fight for supremacy in the Muslim world between these two countries could lead them to cancel each other out to the benefit of a third contestant, Turkey, who has already asserted itself as “the heart of the Muslim world.”11