Factions of the Iranian government plotted to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States, Adel Al-Jubeir, outside a restaurant in Washington that he frequented, Attorney General Eric Holder announced Tuesday. Also discussed by the plotters was an attack on both the Israeli and Saudi embassies in Washington and in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Manssor Arbabsiar — a naturalized U.S. citizen — and Gholam Shakuri — a member of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Qods Force — were named as the two alleged plotters. Arbabsiar is currently jailed in New York and Shakuri’s whereabouts are unknown.
According to reports, Arbabsiar met with an informant of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration posing as an associate of a drug cartel. Arbabsiar discussed killing the ambassador with the informant, and told him that his cousin was a “big general” in Iran and had asked him to “find someone to carry out the ambassador’s assassination.” Arbabsiar arranged to pay the informant in installments that would total $1.5 million to carry out the attack.
Iran, for its part, has denied the accusations.
In announcing the news, Holder was direct in implicating the Iranian government: The plan was “conceived, sponsored and was directed from Iran” by a faction of the government, he said, calling it a “flagrant” violation of U.S. and international law. “The U.S. is committed to holding Iran accountable for its actions,” he added. And in an interview Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the plot “crosses a line that Iran needs to be held to account for,” adding that President Obama wants to use it to enlist more countries to work against a “clearer and clearer threat” from Iran.
If the news reports are accurate, this shift in Iranian sponsorship of terrorism from targets in the Middle East and South America to the United States represents a significant escalation. With the target being the Saudi ambassador, it also foreshadows how the Shia vs. Sunni conflict will continue to unfold. Preventing that conflict from becoming one between nuclear-armed powers should be a vital strategic priority for the United States.