MANHATTAN (CN) – Federal prosecutors unsealed an indictment Tuesday against two alleged Iranian operatives accused of plotting to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in the United States.
One of the men, Manssor Arbabsiar, was arrested on Sept. 28 for the alleged conspiracy, and he appeared briefly in magistrate court on Tuesday afternoon for a brief presentment.
Although he allegedly confessed to the plot, Arbabsiar’s attorney Sabrina Shroff said that her client plans to plead not guilty, but she would not reveal anything about his defense.
As in several recent terrorism cases, a confidential informant plays a prominent role in the 21-page complaint.
Arbabsiar allegedly met in May with a confidential informant posing as an associate of a “large, sophisticated and violent” Mexican drug cartel.
This informant, not named in the complaint, was previously convicted on state drug charges that prosecutors dismissed in exchange for his service as a paid source for the Drug Enforcement Administration, prosecutors say.
Arbabsiar allegedly told the informant in a later meeting that he wanted to attack a Saudi Arabian Embassy, in a plot that authorities say was code-named “Chevrolet.”
The informant replied that he was familiar with C-4 explosives, the complaint states. He told Arbabsiar in a taped conversation on July 14 that he would need “at least four guys” for the assassination plot and would “take the one point five for the Saudi Arabia,” referring to a $1.5 million fee, according to the complaint.
Arbabsiar allegedly replied that the money was in Iran and told the informant about his cousin, who was “wanted in America,” had been “on the CNN,” and was a “big general in [the] army,” according to the complaint.
Authorities believe that Arbabsiar’s cousin is the second man named in the complaint, Gholam Shakuri, who has not yet been arrested. They also believe “army” refers to the Qods Force, an arm of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps that runs covert operations abroad.
Arbabsiar told the informant that his cousin took “unspecified actions related to a bombing in Iraq,” the complaint states.
At the end of the meeting, the informant said, “We’re going to start doing the guy,” allegedly referring to the assassination plot.
Three days later, the informant allegedly told Arbabsiar that one of the cartel’s associates spotted the Saudi ambassador in a Washington D.C. restaurant, surrounded by “eight to seven security people.”
“He goes out and eat like two times a week in a restaurant,” the informant said, according to the complaint. “My guy is already over there … doing surveillance.”
The informant allegedly asked how Arbabsiar’s cousin wanted him to proceed.
“After some further conversation, Arbabsiar replied: ‘He wants you to kill this guy,'” according to the complaint. “CS-1 then explained, ‘There’s gonna be like American people there in the restaurant. You want me to do it outside or in the restaurant?’ Arbabsiar answered: ‘Doesn’t matter how you do it. I mean, if you do it by himself, kill is better, but sometime, you know, you have no choice, is that right?'”
“They want that guy [the ambassador] done [killed], if the hundred go with him, fuck ’em,” he added, according to the complaint.
In August, Arbabsiar allegedly wired the first installment of the payment from a foreign bank to the informant’s bank account.
The following month, Arbabsiar was arrested after his plane from Mexico landed at John F. Kennedy Airport. His luggage allegedly contained $3,900 in U.S. dollars, an undisclosed amount of Iranian currency, an Iranian passport, a U.S. passport and a travel itinerary reflecting a flight departing Mexico during October 2011, with an ultimate destination of Tehran, Iran.
Arbabsiar allegedly waived his Miranda rights hours after his arrest and eventually confessed to the assassination plot, according to the complaint. He then agreed to record a conversation with his cousin, in which they discussed the status of “Chevrolet.”
“I wanted to tell you, the Chevrolet is ready, it’s ready, uh, to be done,” Arbabsiar said. “I should continue, right?”
Shakuri said, “Yes,” and later urged, “Buy it, yes, buy all of it,” according to the complaint.
They are charged with conspiracy to murder a foreign official, foreign travel in the commission of a murder-for-hire, conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction and other terror-related charges.
According to NYU School of Law’s Center on Law and Security, a sharply growing number of terrorism cases rely largely on paid confidential informants, as opposed to undercover agents.
Statistics released in March show that there have been 128 such cases since Sept. 11, 2001, roughly a third of which were filed in 2009 or later.
Vice President Joe Biden and Attorney General Eric Holder reportedly indicated that the charges will renew efforts to isolate Iran.
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara echoed that sentiment in a statement, “Today’s charges should make crystal clear that we will not let other countries use our soil as their battleground.”