Atty. Gen. Eric Holder speaks during a news conference at the Justice Department,… (Haraz N. Ghanbari / Associated…)
An elaborate Iranian-backed plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States was disrupted by FBI and DEA agents, officials said Tuesday.
Members of an elite Iranian security force planned to detonate a bomb at a busy Washington restaurant, killing Adel Al-Jubeir, the Saudi Arabian ambassador to the U.S. and possibly over 100 bystanders, according to documents filed in New York federal court.
The State Department has listed Iran as a state sponsor of terrorism since 1984.
The current plot was infiltrated by a Drug Enforcement Agency informant posing as a member of a Mexican drug cartel, officials said. The plotters planned to pay a member of the Zetas cartel $1.5 million to carry out the attack, and two advance payments of nearly $50,000 each were wired to an FBI-controlled bank account in August, they said.
An Iranian American, Manssor Arbabsiar, 56, has been arrested in the case. An Iran-based member of the secret Quds Force unit of that country's Revolutionary Guard, Gholam Shakuri, was also charged but is not in custody, officials said
The two men were charged with conspiracy to murder a foreign official, conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction and conspiracy to commit an act of terrorism, among other counts.
Officials said Arbabsiar had confessed to the charges and was cooperating with authorities in custody.
The DEA informant, who had been charged with a drug offense and agreed to cooperate in the investigation, posed as a member of the Zeta drug cartel in a meeting with the plotters in May, officials said. Subsequent meetings took place in the U.S. and Mexico during the following months, they said.
President Obama was first briefed on the case in June, said National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor.
The case "reads like the pages of a Hollywood script," FBI Director Robert Mueller told reporters Tuesday, but "the impact would have been very real, and many lives would have been lost."