Yesterday, I noted that the criminal complaint filed in the case of an Iranian plot to assassinate Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the U.S. includes references to what appear to be senior Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force (IRGC-QF) commanders. These IRGC-QF personalities were unnamed in the complaint, for whatever reason. But the implication is that the assassination plot and other planned operations were approved at the highest levels of the IRGC-QF, the Iranian regime’s chief exporter of terrorism throughout the world.
It turns out that the State Department has separately named these IRGC–QF officials in a new terrorist designation. And they include two especially notorious IRGC-QF officials – both of whom have American blood on their hands.
One of the two is Abdul Reza Shahlai, an IRGC-QF officer who planned the Jan. 20, 2007 attack on U.S. soldiers stationed in Karbala, Iraq. That attack left five U.S. soldiers dead and wounded three others. The Karbala raid was both daring and sophisticated, as Iranian-trained terrorists posed as American soldiers during an assault on the Provincial Joint Coordination Center. The assault team was reportedly trained in a mock-up of the center that was built in Iran.
More than two years later, the Obama administration approved the release of two brothers who were members of the Karbala hit team – Qais and Layith Khazali. The public rationale offered for the Khazalis’ release was that it was part of an Iraqi reconciliation effort. That was a shallow cover story. The Khazalis’ release was almost certainly part of a negotiation to free British hostages. Qais Khazali, the more senior of the two brothers, was released on the same day as Peter Moore, a British hostage held by Khazali’s Iranian-sponsored network.
The effort to release the Khazalis, and other Iranian-backed terrorists, was questioned by two Republican senators. In a letter to President Obama dated July 1, 2009, Senators Jeff Sessions and Jon Kyl said they were “deeply concerned by recent news reports that suggest your administration may be negotiating directly or indirectly with terrorist organizations for the release of dangerous terrorist detainees.” The senators argued that such negotiations were inconsistent with longstanding U.S. policy, which prohibited negotiations with terrorists. Qais Khazali was released several months later, on December 30, 2009.
So, the U.S. government has released members of Shahlai’s attack team in Iraq, only to have Shahlai turn around and orchestrate terrorist plots inside the U.S.
Shahlai not only planned the 2007 Karbala raid, he also plotted the assassination of the Saudi ambassador. According to the Treasury Department, Shahlai “coordinated the plot to assassinate the Saudi Arabian Ambassador to the United States Adel Al-Jubeir, while he was in the United States and to carry out follow-on attacks against other countries' interests inside the United States and in another country.”
Shahlai’s cousin is Manssor Arbabsiar, who was arrested by U.S. officials in September after he attempted to hire a Mexican drug cartel to carry out the assassination plot. Arbabsiar appeared in a New York court on Tuesday. According to the criminal complaint, Arbabsiar described his cousin as a “big general” who was “wanted in America” and had been “on the CNN.” Shahlai is certainly wanted by U.S. authorities for his violent role in Iraq, where he has worked to kill American soldiers.
The Treasury Department first designated Shahlai in September 2008, noting that he was a “deputy commander in the” IRGC-QF who “threatens the peace and stability of Iraq by planning Jaysh al-Mahdi (JAM) Special Groups attacks against Coalition Forces in Iraq.” The JAM is one of Iran’s chief terrorist proxies in Iraq and is responsible for attacks such as the 2007 one in Karbala. Shahlai not only supplied JAM Special Groups with extensive arms, he “also approved and coordinated the training of JAM Special Groups.”
“As of May 2007,” Treasury reported, “Shahlai served as the final approving and coordinating authority for all Iran-based Lebanese Hizballah training for JAM Special Groups to fight Coalition Forces in Iraq.” And in “late-August 2006, Shahlai instructed a senior Lebanese Hizballah official to coordinate anti-aircraft rocket training for JAM Special Groups.”
The other especially noteworthy IRGC commander named by the Treasury Department is Qasem Soleimani – who heads the IRGC-QF. Soleimani is in charge of the IRGC-QF’s operations in Afghanistan, Lebanon, Gaza and Iraq. That is, his chief role is to export Iranian terrorism throughout Iran’s neighborhood. And now Soleimani has been implicated in an effort to bring Iranian terrorism into the heart of the U.S.
The assassination plot was just one part of the IRGC-QF’s plans, which involved other officials named by the Treasury Department. While press accounts offer different versions of what else the IRGC was planning, plots against Saudi and Israeli embassies either in the U.S. or abroad were reportedly in the works.
Indeed, the U.S. Treasury Department notes that Shahlai approved “$5 million dollars as payment for all of the operations discussed.” $1.5 million of that largesse was allocated to the assassination plot, leaving the bulk of the funding for the IRGC-QF’s other terrorist operations.
Thomas Joscelyn is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.