x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Two Iranians charged over alleged major terror attack on US

Manssor Arbabsiar and Gholam Shakuri, an alleged member of a secret Iranian military unit, are charged with plotting to kill the Saudi ambassador to the United States as part of a major attack.

WASHINGTON // Two Iranians have been charged over plans to kill the Saudi ambassador to the United States as part of a major terror attack in a "plot directed by elements of the Iranian government" .

The plan called for the assassination of Ambassador Adel Al Jubeir in an explosives attack, which could have killed many other people and would have been just "the opening act" in an attack on US soil, Justice Department officials said.

Manssor Arbabsiar, a 56-year-old naturalised US citizen holding both Iranian and US passports, and Gholam Shakuri, an alleged member of a secret Iranian military unit, are charged with plotting the attacks, said officials.

The US Attorney General, Eric Holder, who held a news conference yesterday after the alleged plot was unveiled, said that the US will hold Iran responsible for any terrorist actions tied to the plot, which he said was sponsored by the Iranian government. He called the conspiracy a "flagrant" violation of international law.

He said the two men were connected to the secretive Quds Force, a division of Iran's elite Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps that has carried out operations in other countries. Mr Holder said that money in support of the plot had been transferred through a bank in New York, but that the men had not yet obtained any explosives.

Mr Shakuri remains at large. Mr Arbabsiar was arrested on September 29 at New York's John F Kennedy International Airport and was to make his initial appearance yesterday before in federal court in Manhattan. He faces a maximum potential sentence of life in prison if convicted of all the charges.

"The criminal complaint unsealed today exposes a deadly plot directed by factions of the Iranian government to assassinate a foreign ambassador on US soil with explosives," Mr Holder said.

"Through the diligent and coordinated efforts of our law enforcement and intelligence agencies, we were able to disrupt this plot before anyone was harmed. We will continue to investigate this matter vigorously and bring those who have violated any laws to justice."

Mr Holder said the plot was "conceived, sponsored and directed from Iran."

News reports said the plot also included a bomb and subsequent bomb attacks on the Saudi and Israeli embassies in Washington.

The case, called Operation Red Coalition, began in May when an Iranian-American from Corpus Christi, Texas, approached a US informant seeking the help of a Mexican drug cartel to assassinate the Saudi ambassador, according to counter-terrorism officials.

The Iranian-American thought he was dealing with a member of a Mexican drug organisation, according to documents.

The US said Mr Arbabsiar allegedly conspired with Mr Shakuri, a member of Iran's "Quds Force", described as "the most secret of the Iranian regime's numerous military organisations" by the Iran Terror Database.

The United States will contact governments worldwide to brief them on the alleged plot, Mr Holder said. "One thing that we will be doing is getting in touch with other of our allies and nations around the world to make them aware of what it is that was thwarted here," he said.

The US president Barack Obama was first briefed on the development in June, and ordered his aides to fully support the investigation, an official said.

FBI Director Robert Mueller said: "It reads like the pages of a Hollywood script. We send a clear message that any attempts on American soil will not be tolerated."

The two men are charged with five counts including conspiracy to murder a foreign official and conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction. They may face as much as life in prison if convicted.