NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — A Texas man pleaded guilty Wednesday to plotting to assassinate Saudi Arabia’s
ambassador to the United States, agreeing to hire what he thought was a drug dealer in Mexico last year for $1.5 million to carry out the attack with explosives at a Washington restaurant.
Manssor Arbabsiar, 58, entered the plea to two conspiracy charges and a murder-for-hire count in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, where Judge John F. Keenan repeatedly asked Arbabsiar whether he intended to kill the ambassador. Arbabsiar, a U.S. citizen who holds an Iranian passport, said he did.
“A little more than a year after his arrest, Manssor Arbabsiar has admitted to his role in a deadly plot approved by members of the Iranian military to assassinate a sitting foreign Ambassador on U.S. soil,” Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement. “Today’s plea and the disruption of this plot should serve as a reminder of the exceptional efforts of our law enforcement and intelligence agencies in protecting America against terrorist attacks and in holding accountable those who plan such actions.”
Sentencing was set for Jan. 23 when Arbabsiar will face up to 25 years in prison. A trial had been scheduled for January.
A second suspect, Gholam Shakuri, was also charged in the case but remains at large. Shakuri is a member of the Iran-based Qods Force, authorities said.
EXTRA: Read The Complaint
The press attache at Iran’s mission to the United Nations has called the accusation “baseless.”
At the plea, Assistant U.S. Attorney Edward Kim asked Arbabsiar if officials in the Iranian military were involved in the plot. Arbabsiar said they were.
Arbabsiar, who lived in Corpus Christie, Texas, for more than a decade, said he went to Mexico last year to meet a man named Junior, “who turned out to be an FBI agent.” He said that he and others had agreed to arrange the kidnapping of the ambassador, Adel Al-Jubeir, but Junior said it would be easier to kill the ambassador.
Arbabsiar has been held without bail since he was arrested Sept. 29, 2011 at John F. Kennedy International Airport. He was brought into court Wednesday in handcuffs. He spoke English and did not use a translator, despite saying he understood only about half of what he read in English. Bearded and bespectacled, he smiled several times during the proceeding, including in the direction of courtroom artists who were seated in the jury box when he entered court.
Defense lawyers say Arbabsiar suffers from bipolar disorder.
Kim said that if the government had proceeded to trial, it would have presented a jury with secretly recorded conversations between Arbabsiar and a confidential source, along with Arbabsiar’s extensive post-arrest statement to authorities and emails and financial records.
Authorities have said they secretly recorded conversations between Arbabsiar and an informant with the Drug Enforcement Administration after Arbabsiar approached the informant in Mexico and asked his knowledge of explosives for a plot to blow up the Saudi embassy in Washington. They said Arbabsiar later offered $1.5 million for the death of the ambassador.
Arbabsiar admitted Wednesday that he eventually made a $100,000 down payment wired from an overseas account through a Manhattan bank.
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