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Friday, May 24, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Not Guilty Plea in Alleged Saudi Assassination Plot

MANHATTAN (CN) - Manssor Arbabsiar pleaded not guilty Monday morning to charges that he conspired to murder the Saudi Arabian ambassador to the United States.

Defense attorney Sabrina Shroff said she will challenge confession that the government claims to have obtained hours after arresting Arbabsiar on Sept. 28.

Shroff did not comment on the case after the brief arraignment.

U.S. District Judge John Keenan said there may be Miranda motions about the confession.

Federal prosecutors have not supplied discovery yet, but Keenan said unclassified discovery should be turned over at the end of week.

The government's case against Arbabsiar includes recorded conversations, conducted in Farsi and English.

Parties will appear in court again on Dec. 21. The court has scheduled the trial to last three to four weeks.

Arbabsiar was arrested on Sept. 28 for the alleged conspiracy, but alleged co-conspirator Golam Shakuri is still at large.

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 this cousin is Shakuri and that "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.

The informant allegedly told Arbabsiar that the Saudi ambassador eats at a Washington D.C. restaurant several time a week, surrounded by "eight to seven security people."

"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.

Iran allegedly plotted the murder to set off a worldwide diplomatic uproar. The indictment says Arbabsiar caused Iran to make an overseas wire transfer of approximately $49,960 from one of its banks to the FBI's undercover bank account on Aug. 1, and the same transaction occurred again on Aug. 9.

Arbabsiar was arrested in September 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.

When Arbabsiar allegedly waived his Miranda rights and confessed, the government says he 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.

The men 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.

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