Attorney General Eric Holder said Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the U.S. Adel al-Jubeir was the target of an assassination plot uncovered by federal agents.
“The criminal complaint unsealed today exposes a deadly plot directed by factions of the Iranian government to assassinate a foreign Ambassador on U.S. soil with explosives,” Attorney General Eric Holder said.
The investigation began when one of the suspects, naturalized U.S. citizen Manssor Arbabsiar, on behalf of an arm of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, contacted an undercover DEA agent in Mexico in May about getting help from the Zetas drug cartel in attacking a Saudi Arabian embassy, NBC News reported.
It was the first in a series of meetings, Holder said, during which Arbabsiar said his Iranian associates had discussed several violent attacks, including the assassination of Ambassador Adel Al-Jubeir.
In addition to holding the suspects accountable, the government is "committed to holding Iran accountable for its actions," Holder said.
As a down payment in the alleged $1.5 million murder-for-hire plot, $100,000 was wired in August to an undercover FBI account for the informant, who was asked to carry out the assassination. According to the indictment, the DEA agent's fictional plot involved bombing an unnamed but well-known restaurant frequented by Al-Jubeir.
“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,” U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said.
In a meeting on July 14, the DEA agent, posing as an associate of the Mexican cartel, told Arbabsiar he needed four men to help him carry out the assassination, according to the indictment. Arbabsiar said the assassination should be handled first before other attacks. He also said his cousin -- a "big general" in the Iranian military -- requested Arbabsiar find someone to assassinate Al-Jubeir.
Three days later, the DEA agent told Arbabsiar that he'd already had someone go to D.C. and conduct surveillance on the ambassador, according to the indictment. Arbabsiar made it clear that the assassination needed to go forward despite the possibility of mass casualties.
Arbabsiar, who holds both U.S. and Iranian passports, was arrested Sept. 29 during a layover at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, a day after being denied entry into Mexico. He has since confessed to his role, Holder said. The 56-year-old Arbabsiar also provided other information about the Iranian government's role in the plot. He said he was recruited by people he believed to be senior Iranian officials.
Arbabsiar confessed to meeting Gholam Shakuri, a member of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps's Quds Force, and another Quds Force official several times in Iran, according to the indictment.
A senior U.S. official told NBC News to look to Treasury and the State Department for the immediate response against Iran.
The official also said that U.S. intelligence has a "high-degree" of confidence that the "Quds Force at the highest levels" was involved in the alleged plot and that this was not some "rogue operation."
President Barack Obama was first briefed on the alleged plot in June, said White House spokesman Tommy Vietor."The disruption of this plot is a significant achievement by our intelligence and law enforcement agencies, and the president is enormously grateful for their exceptional work in this instance and countless others," Vietor said.
The United States designated the Quds Force a terrorist group in 2007.
The Saudi Arabian Embassy thanked U.S. authorities for preventing a crime from taking place.
Arbabsiar and Shakuri are charged with conspiracy to murder a foreign official, conspiracy to engage in foreign travel and use interstate and foreign commerce facilities in the commission of murder-for-hire, conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction, and conspiracy to commit an act of terrorism transcending national boundaries. Arbabsiar also is charged with foreign travel and use of interstate and foreign commerce facilities in the commission of murder-for-hire.
Arbabsiar faces life in prison if convicted of all charges. Shakuri remains at large.