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Guilty Plea In Plot To Murder Saudi Ambassador

Manssor Arbabsiar, an Iranian-born naturalized American citizen, has pleaded guilty to conspiring with Iranian military officials in a plot to kill the Saudi ambassador to the United States, the Justice Department says.

He was arrested last October, as we reported at the time. It was a case, spy novelist and Washington Post foreign policy columnist David Ignatius said then, that read more like an Elmore Leonard "caper novel" than a cloak-and-dagger "spy novel."

Ignatius thought the tale of a Iranian-born U.S. citizen living in Texas reaching out to a man he thought was with a Mexican drug cartel (who turned out to be a paid informant for the Drug Enforcement Administration) and trying to arrange the bombing of the ambassador, was "extremely unusual and sloppy ... tradecraft" and isn't how Iran's spy agencies usually work.

But Justice says that:

"In connection with his guilty plea, Arbabsiar admitted that, from the spring of 2011 to the fall of 2011, he conspired with officials in the Iranian military who were based in Iran to cause the assassination of the Saudi Arabian ambassador while the ambassador was in the United States. Arbabsiar acknowledged that at the direction of these co-conspirators, he traveled to Mexico on several occasions during 2011 in order to arrange the assassination of the ambassador. Arbabsiar admitted that, with his co-conspirators' approval, he had arranged to hire a DEA confidential source (CS-1), who claimed to be a representative of a drug cartel, and CS-1's criminal associates, to murder the ambassador. Arbabsiar further admitted that he agreed to pay $1.5 million to CS-1 and had discussed with CS-1 a plan to murder the ambassador at a restaurant in Washington, D.C. — a plan that was approved by Arbabsiar's co-conspirators. Arbabsiar then arranged for a $100,000 down payment, in two installments, to be wired to CS-1."

According to the FBI, "Gholam Shakuri, aka 'Ali Gholam Shakuri,' a co-conspirator and Iran-based member of the Qods Force ... who was also charged in the plot, remains at large." He's presumably in Iran.

Iranian officials have accused the U.S. of fabricating the plot.

Arbabsiar "faces a maximum potential sentence of 25 years in prison (10 years on counts one and two, and five years on count three)," Justice says. He is to be sentenced in January.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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