Terror Plot Prompts Calls for ‘Crippling Pressure’ on Iran

October 12, 2011 - 4:41 AM

Saudi ambassador

Saudi ambassador Adel al-Jubeir. (AP Photos/Susan Walsh, File)

(CNSNews.com) – It’s time to bring “crippling pressure” to bear on Iran in response to its threatening conduct around the world, U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee chairwoman Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said Tuesday.

The Florida Republican was responding to news that law enforcement agencies had foiled an alleged Iranian plot to carry out terrorist attacks on U.S. soil, beginning with the murder of the Saudi ambassador to the U.S. by bombing a restaurant he frequented in D.C.

Citing Tehran’s nuclear and proliferation activities, its sponsorship of terror including attacks against U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, and now the latest aborted plot involving efforts to recruit criminal elements close to home, Ros-Lehtinen said “the multi-faceted threat posed by Iran becomes more severe with each passing day.”

“Tehran is actively working to attack our homeland and our allies and interests all around the world, and we simply can’t spare any more time,” she said. “Responsible nations must unite against this threat and immediately bring to bear crippling pressure on the Iranian regime and its enablers.”

The Foreign Affairs Committee’s terrorism subcommittee is holding a hearing Wednesday to examine links between terrorist groups and drug cartels, while on Thursday a full committee hearing is scheduled to examine security threats in the Western hemisphere.

The FBI Tuesday announced the uncovering of a plot in which alleged Iranian agents hired a purported Mexican drug cartel associate to carry out attacks in the U.S.

An Iranian-American suspect at the center of the allegations, Manssor Arbabsiar, faces charges of conspiracy to murder a foreign official, murder for hire, use of certain weapons of mass destruction, and acts of terrorism transcending national boundaries.

Also indicted but still at large in Iran is Gholam Shakuri, believed to be a member of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Qods Force, a unit answerable to supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and responsible for covert operations abroad.

The Iranian government dismissed the allegations as “prefabricated” and part of a “new propaganda campaign” against Iran.

Attorney-General Eric Holder and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton both said the U.S. would hold Iran accountable for its actions.

Hillary Clinton

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the State Department on Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2011. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

"This really, in the minds of many diplomats and government officials, crosses a line that Iran needs to be held to account for," Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told The Associated Press in an interview Tuesday. She said she and President Barack Obama want to "enlist more countries in working together against what is becoming a clearer and clearer threat" from Iran.

The Treasury Department announced sanctions against Arbabsiar, Shakuri and three other Iranians – including the Qods Force commander and two officials – involved in the alleged plot.

Heritage Foundation scholar James Carafano, a defense and homeland security expert, called for strong retaliatory measures.

“The United States is fully within its rights to conduct a proportional military response against suitable, feasible, and acceptable targets,” he wrote Tuesday.

Carafano and other conservative analysts are critical of the administration’s approach to state-sponsorship of terrorism.

“The White House’s is downplaying state-sponsored terrorism because the Obama Doctrine called for engaging with America’s enemies,” he argued.

Carafano noted that a national counterterrorism strategy released by President Obama last June contained just one reference to Iran.

(The single reference in the 19-page document – which focused almost entirely on “al-Qaeda and its affiliates and adherents” – was: “Iran and Syria remain active sponsors of terrorism, and we remain committed to opposing the support these state sponsors provide to groups pursuing terrorist attacks to undermine regional stability.”)

Also critical of the administration was American Enterprise Institute visiting fellow Roger Noriega, who said U.S. officials have up to now deliberately played down reports of provocative Iranian activities in the Western hemisphere.

“Perhaps now U.S. officials will take steps to assess and respond to this grave and growing threat,” he wrote on the AEI blog.

An AEI report released last week said Iran was directly supporting two terror networks operating in Latin America, one operated by Qods Force and the other by Iran’s ally, Hezbollah. It also said the networks were sharing terrorist techniques with Mexican drug cartels.

The National Iranian American Council (NIAC), a Washington-based group supportive of Obama’s earlier attempts to engage Tehran, said the allegations, if true, meant that “rivalries” in the Middle East involving Iran, Saudi Arabia, the U.S. and Israel “may have spilled over onto U.S. shores.”

“If the alleged Iranian action was aimed at provoking the U.S., the Obama administration should be careful not to walk into such a trap,” said NIAC president Trita Parsi. “A war with Iran would be devastating to U.S. interests and to the people of Iran.”

Unavoidable American casualties ‘no big deal’

Iranian plot

An undated image of Manssor Arbabsiar. (AP Photo/Nueces County sheriff's office)

According to Department of Justice documents filed with Manhattan federal court, Arbabsiar (rendered “Arbab Sayyar” in Iranian reports) approached a man whom he believed to be associated with “a large, sophisticated and violent drug-trafficking cartel” active in Mexico and the U.S. which reportedly “has access to military-grade weaponry and explosives, and has engaged in numerous acts of violence, including assassinations and murders.”

What Arbabsiar did now know was that the man was a paid informant for U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. After being arrested in an unnamed U.S. state on narcotics offenses, he had agreed to be a source in return for having the charges dismissed.

The “confidential source,” dubbed CS-1 in the documents, had “previously provided reliable and independently-corroborated information” leading to numerous narcotics seizures.

Collaborating with U.S. law enforcement agencies, CS-1 had communicated with Arbabsiar and discussed carrying out various terror attacks for payment.

A plan to assassinate Saudi ambassador Adel al-Jubeir by bombing a D.C. restaurant was then pursued, according to the documents. CS-1 was to be paid $1.5 million for the job, and Arbabsiar allegedly facilitated the transfer of $100,000 as a down payment, wired to a bank account covertly overseen by the FBI.

In one secretly recorded conversation during a meeting in Mexico last July, the Iranian-American had told CS-1, “this is politics, ok … it’s not, like, eh, personal” adding that the person in Iran who would organize the payment has “got the government behind him … he’s not paying from his pocket.”

The plotters were apparently not averse to large-scale killings. When CS-1 pointed out during that same meeting that 100 or more Americans could be inside the restaurant and that senators were known to dine there, he was told that if casualties could not be avoided it was “no big deal.”

Arbabsiar allegedly told the hired assassin that although the ambassador was the target, “if the hundred go with him, f***  ’em.”

According to the documents the assassination was seen as a test run, with future assignments to follow. The possibility of other attacks was discussed, with targets including those associated with Saudi Arabia and “another country.” (U.S. officials told ABC News that country was Israel.)

In late September, Arbabsiar flew to Mexico to offer himself to the cartel as collateral ahead of the killing, but Mexican authorities refused entry and put him on a flight back to the U.S.

When arrested while in transit at JFK, he was found to be in possession of $3,900 in one hundred dollar bills, some Iranian currency, an Iranian passport, a U.S. passport, and a travel itinerary reflecting that he had planned to fly out of Mexico in October 2011, final destination Tehran.

The Justice Department filing says Arbabsiar confessed to the plot and then, in phone calls to Iran monitored by the FBI, spoke again this month to Shakuri, who urged him to carry out the assassination quickly.

A 2008 report by the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center records that at least 162 Iranians have been assassinated abroad by Qods Force and other regime agents since the 1979 revolution.

Killing had taken place in 17 countries in the Middle East, Asia and Europe – and in the United States, it said.

The report records two assassinations on U.S. soil – the March 1992 killing in New Jersey of Nareh Rafizadeh, the wife and sister-in-law of Shah-era Iranian intelligence agents; and the July 1980 killing in Bethesda, Md. of Ali Akbar Tabatabai, described as a former diplomat and founder of the Iraq Freedom Foundation.

In the Tabatabai case, the American-born assassin fled to Iran afterwards and was accorded a personal meeting with the late Ayatollah Khomeini, it said.