The Obama administration has accused members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) of plotting to kill Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the U.S. And, according to press reports, the putative assassination plot was just one of multiple planned attacks, including possible attacks on Saudi and Israeli embassies.
That the IRGC would be involved in planning such terrorist attacks is hardly surprising. Terrorism is in the IRGC’s DNA as it has supported terrorist operations around the globe for decades. Those operations include attacks against American servicemen in Iraq and Afghanistan, for which Iran has never been held accountable.
Still, if the Obama administration is right, then the IRGC’s alleged plotting in this instance was especially brazen – even by the IRGC’s standards. It would seem to be the first known instance in which the IRGC plotted terrorist attacks inside the continental U.S. – an ominous sign indeed.
The plot centered on an Iranian-American named Manssor Arbabsiar, who attempted to hire a man he thought was a member of a Mexican drug cartel to kill the Saudi ambassador. In reality, Arbabsiar’s would-be assassin was an informant for the DEA.
Arbabsiar and his IRGC handlers wanted members of the cartel to bomb or shoot up a (fictional) restaurant in Washington, D.C. that is frequented by the Saudi ambassador. When the DEA’s man asked Arbabsiar if he was worried that 100 or more innocent bystanders may be killed in the attack, including U.S. senators, Arbabsiar nonchalantly dismissed any concerns.
Killing the ambassador “by himself” would be “better,” Arbabsiar explained, but “sometime[s], you know, you have no choice.”
“They [the IRGC] want that guy [the ambassador] done [killed], if the hundred go with him, [f*] ‘em,” Arbabsiar insisted.
A careful reading of the criminal complaint, from which the above quotes were taken, reveals that at least several senior IRGC officials have been implicated. We are left to wonder about their identities, as they are unnamed in court filings. But given the FBI’s descriptions of them, they may be especially senior IRGC officials.
According to the complaint, Arbabsiar (thinking that he was dealing with a shady narcotics dealer) told the DEA’s informant that it was his cousin who wanted the Saudi ambassador killed.
Arbabsiar said his cousin was “wanted in America,” had been “on the CNN,” and was a “big general” in the Iranian army. Arbabsiar explained that his cousin works “in other countries for the Iranian government.” The FBI concluded that Arbabsiar meant that his cousin “works for the military of Iran, in particular, for the Qods Force, and this cousin focuses on matters outside of Iran.” Listening to Arbabsiar’s description, the FBI also concluded that this cousin was involved in some “unspecified actions related to a bombing in Iraq.”
Who is Arbabsiar’s cousin? We don’t know since he isn’t named in the complaint. Perhaps Arbabsiar’s descriptions were exaggerated. In any case, Arbabsiar “had long understood that his cousin…was a high-ranking member of the Qods Force.”
While pushing the assassination plot forward, Arbabsiar dealt extensively with another member of the IRGC who is named in the complaint: Gholum Shakuri. Arbabsiar has described Shakuri as being “like a colonel” and explained that Shakuri answers to Arbabsiar’s cousin.
Arbabsiar admittedly “met routinely” with Shakuri in Iran while plotting the attacks. After his arrest, Arbabsiar placed multiple calls to Shakuri under the direction of federal authorities, who were listening in.
Speaking in code during one call, Arbabsiar explained to Shakuri: “I wanted to tell you, the Chevrolet is ready, it’s ready, uh, to be done. I should continue, right?” Shakuri replied: “Yes. Yes, yes.”
Shakuri later asked: “You mean you are buying all of it [the Chevrolet]?” Arbabsiar answered: “I don’t know for now, it’s ready, okay?” To which Shakuri insisted: “So buy it, buy it.”
“Buy it? Okay,” Arbabsiar said.
Shakuri made himself clear: “Buy it, yes, buy all of it.”
The Chevrolet was, according to the FBI, the plot to kill Saudi Arabia’s ambassador. The IRGC “colonel” was making it clear that he wanted the plot to move forward.
During another call, Arbabsiar pretended that his Mexican executioner was demanding more money up front after already receiving $100,000 as a down payment for the operation. Shakuri said he had to ask his superiors what Arbabsiar should do, and worried that they might be throwing more money away if the hit didn’t occur. In all, the Iranians were willing to pay $1.5 million for the completed operation – but only when the deed was done.
Arbabsiar’s cousin and Shakuri weren’t the only IRGC officials allegedly involved. Arbabsiar told authorities that he “met together on a number of occasions in Tehran” with Shakuri and another “high-ranking member of the Qods Force” referred to as “Iranian Official #2” in the complaint. Arbabsiar identified a photo of this official by an alias that authorities say is a known alias for this IRGC official. (The FBI also does not believe that there are any publicly available photos of this official – making Arbabsiar’s identification both credible and damning.)
Shakuri told Arbabsiar that still another IRGC Qods Force official (identified as “Iranian Official #3”) was aware of Arbabsiar’s plotting and that he could meet with him in the future. Arbabsiar understood this official “to be the leader of the Qods Force.”
If the details reported in the complaint hold up to scrutiny, then senior IRGC officials have been implicated in Arbabsiar’s plotting. These include three anonymous high-ranking IRGC members: Arbabsiar’s cousin, “Iranian Official #2,” and “Iranian Official #3.” Those three officials are in addition to the IRGC’s Gholum Shakuri.
The details of this alleged plot are just coming to the public’s attention, so more time will be needed to digest them.
But Arbabsiar, according to the complaint, is certain about the identities of this plot’s masterminds. Arbabsiar admitted that he “was recruited, funded, and directed by men he understood to be senior officials in the Qods Force.”
Thomas Joscelyn is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.