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Iranian-born man sentenced for Saudi envoy murder plot

This handout mugshot obtained October 12, 2011 courtesy of the Nueces County, Texas sheriff's Office shows Manssor Arbabsiar. (AFP PHOTO / HO / Nueces County Sheriff)

NEW YORK: An Iranian-born used car salesman from Texas was sentenced to 25 years in a U.S. prison Thursday after pleading guilty to participating in a plot with an Iranian military unit to murder the Saudi Arabian Ambassador to the United States.

Manssor Arbabsiar, 58, received the sentence at a hearing before U.S. District Judge John Keenan in Manhattan. He had pleaded guilty in October last year to charges related to his seeking to hire Mexican drug traffickers to kill the ambassador. The plot was vehemently denied by Tehran.

He pleaded guilty to one count of murder-for-hire, one count of conspiracy to commit murder-for-hire, and one count of conspiracy to commit an act of terrorism transcending national boundaries.

The supposed member of the international drug trafficking cartel who Arbabsiar offered to pay $1.5 million to carry out the plot was in reality a confidential informant of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

No weapons were obtained and the scheme to kill Saudi Ambassador Adel al-Jubeir was not fulfilled.

“I can’t change what I did,” Arbabsiar said in a brief statement in court.

U.S. authorities also brought charges against Gholam Shakuri, who prosecutors say was a member of the Quds Force, the covert unit of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. Shakuri has not been arrested.

Keenan emphasized the need to send a message to those who might consider violent acts against U.S. interests “must learn the lesson that such conduct will not be tolerated.”

“In a case like this, deterrence is of supreme import,” Keenan said.

In addition to his prison sentence, Arbabsiar was ordered to forfeit the sum of $125,000.

In a statement, the Saudi Embassy in Washington said the sentencing was “another step along the road to justice and sends a message of determination against those who seek to disrupt order in the international community through flagrant violations of international laws, human values and ethics.”

According to prosecutors, the plot had its origins in a spring 2011 trip by Arbabsiar to Iran to visit his family.

A cousin who was a high-ranking member of the Quds Force told Arbabsiar he wanted him to find someone he could hire to kidnap Jubeir, prosecutors said in the May 2 filing. The cousin subsequently put Arbabsiar in touch with Shakuri, his deputy, who would be in charge of the mission, the filing said.

Prosecutors said for his role in the plot, the Quds Force gave him $25,000 in operational expenses. Arbabsiar said after his arrest that he had demanded an additional payment of at least $1 million, prosecutors said.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on May 31, 2013, on page 1.

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