FBI head: Terror plot read like movie script

ByKevin Johnson, USA TODAY
October 11, 2011, 10:54 PM

WASHINGTON -- In late May, a trusted informant for the Drug Enforcement Administration in Mexico told his U.S. handlers about an extraordinary meeting.

The informant, posing as a Mexican drug cartel associate, said a 56-year-old U.S. citizen with Iranian travel documents, later identified as Manssor Arbabsiar, sought him out to discuss his interest in attacking an embassy of Saudi Arabia.

The May 24 meeting, federal authorities now allege, launched a series of secretly tape-recorded sessions in which Arbabsiar eventually outlined a detailed plan — backed by associates in Iran and elements of the Iranian government — to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador to the United States, Adel Al-Jubeir.

At one point, Arbabsiar urged that the assault should move forward, even if it meant that innocent Americans also would be killed in the proposed bomb attack in the U.S. capital, according to federal court documents.

Court papers allege Arbabsiar was working closely with Gholam Shakuri, 47, an Iranian-based member of Iran's Quds Force — a unit of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps — while meeting continuously to recruit the U.S. informant and others whom Arbabsiar mistakenly believed to be terrorists.

FBI Director Robert Mueller said Tuesday that the alleged attack plan read like a story line from "a Hollywood script," although it involved "a very serious threat."

"As alleged, these defendants were part of a well-funded and pernicious plot that had, as its first priority, the assassination of the Saudi ambassador to the United States, without care or concern for the mass casualties that would result from their planned attack," said Preet Bharara, the chief federal prosecutor in Manhattan, where the charges against Arbabsiar and Shakuri were filed. "We will not let other countries use our soil as their battleground."

From that first meeting in May, federal court documents allege that the plot developed rapidly throughout the summer, with Arbabsiar flying between his home in Texas and Mexico to hammer out critical details of the proposed assault.

By July, they had agreed on price: $1.5 million. And in August, Arbabsiar allegedly delivered a down payment of $100,000, routed by wire transfers in two installments to a bank account secretly manged by the FBI, the court documents state.

As part of the undercover scheme, the informant demanded that Ababsiar provide himself as "collateral" for the balance of the $1.5 million payment by traveling to Mexico in September, when the assault was to take place.

Mexican officials, cooperating with U.S. investigators, refused Ababsiar's attempted entry to Mexico on Sept. 28, returning him to the United States, where he was arrested at John F. Kennedy International Airport.

•Two arrested in terrorist plot, 1A

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