Texas man pleads guilty in plot to assassinate Saudi envoy

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A former Texas used car salesman pleaded guilty Wednesday to conspiring in a plot to assassinate the Saudi envoy to the United States.

Mansoor Arbabsiar, 58, a naturalized American from Iran, pled guilty to three counts, including soliciting a murder for hire scheme, and conspiring in a terrorism plot against the United States. He could face twenty-five years in prison and will forfeit his assets.

Arbabsiar was charged last year wth conspiring with four members of Iran’s Qods force-among the, his cousin-in a bizarre plot to recruit members of a Mexican drug gang to blow up a Washington restaurant frequented by the Saudi envoy, Adel al-Jubeir. The plot came on the radar of federal authorities after Arbabsiar attempted to seek the help in Mexico, in May 2011, of a man fhe thought to be a member of the Zetas drug cartel. That man turned out, however, to be a paid informant for the Drug Enforcement Agency. Federal terrrorism investigators were allegedly monitoring Arbabsiar when he wired $100,000 to the DEA informant in the summer of 2011, as the downpayment for the alleged hit job, for which he had agreed to pay $1.5 million.

Iran’s mission to the UN last year called the allegations ‘baseless,’ and several outside observers have found the details of the allegedly thwarted plot far-fetched.

But in a demonstration of how seriously top US officials have viewed the case, Arbabsiar’s guilty plea was announced Wednesday by a half dozen top US law enforcement chiefs, including Attorney General Eric Holder, FBI Director Robert Mueller, and DEA chief Michelle Leonhart.

“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 …to cause the assassination of the Saudi Arabian Ambassador while the Ambassador was in the United States,” a Justice Department press release on the plea Wednesday said.

“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,” it continued. “Arbabsiar admitted that, with his co-conspirators’ approval, he had arranged to hire a DEA confidential source …. and [his] criminal associates, to murder the Ambassador” for an agreed fee of $1.5 million.

Arbabsiar entered his plea before U.S. District Judge John Keenan in Manhattan Wednesday. He is scheduled to be sentenced by the same judge January 23, 2013.

Federal authorities previously declined to confirm whether the Washington restaurant the hit plotters discussed targeting was Cafe Milano, in Georgetown, which Saudi envoy Adel al-Jubeir is known to have frequented.

(Photo: Manssor Arbabsiar is shown in this 1996 Nueces County, Texas, Sheriff’s Office photograph released to Reuters on October 12, 2011. REUTERS/Nueces County Sheriff’s Office/Handout.)