The Cable

Treasury announces new sanctions on Iranian officials

The Treasury Department just announced new sanctions on Iranian officials who they allege were connected to the plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States by hiring what they thought were Mexican cartel members to bomb a restaurant.

Four of the Iranians named in the new sanctions are senior officials in Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps' Quds force (IRGC-QF), which is implicated in the complaint filed today by Justice Department officials that explained the plot. The fifth Iranian sanctioned was Manssor Arbabsiar, the naturalized U.S. citizen alleged to be responsible for arranging the assassination plot on behalf of the Quds force who was arrested on Sept. 29 and has confessed while in U.S. custody.

Treasury announced the new sanctions in a press release on Tuesday afternoon. The action makes it illegal for Americans to do business with and freezes the U.S.-based assets of IRGC-QF commander Qasem Soleimani, Hamed Abdollahi, a senior IRGC-QF official who allegedly coordinated aspects of the plot, Abdul Reza Shahlai, an IRGC-QF official who allegedly coordinated the operation; and Ali Gholam Shakuri, an IRGC-QF official and deputy to Shahlai, who allegedly met with Arbabsiar several times to discuss this assassination and other plots.

"Iran once again has used the Quds Force and the international financial system to pursue an act of international terrorism, this time aimed against a Saudi diplomat," said David Cohen, Treasury undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence. "The financial transactions at the heart of this plot lay bare the risk that banks and other institutions face in doing business with Iran."

Further actions are expected to be announced by other administration agencies soon.

Here are the allegations Treasury made as justifications for the new sanctions designations:

Manssor Arbabsiar

Arbabsiar met on a number of occasions with senior IRGC-QF officials regarding this plot and acted on behalf of senior Qods Force officials - including his cousin Abdul Reza Shahlai and Shahlai's deputy Gholam Shakuri - to execute the plot. During one such meeting, a $100,000 payment for the murder of the Saudi ambassador was approved by the IRGC-QF. After this meeting, Arbabsiar arranged for approximately $100,000 to be sent from a non-Iranian foreign bank to the United States, to the account of the person he recruited to carry out the assassination. 

Qasem Soleimani

As IRGC-QF Commander, Qasem Soleimani oversees the IRGC-QF officers who were involved in this plot. Soleimani was previously designated by the Treasury Department under E.O. 13382 based on his relationship to the IRGC. He was also designated in May 2011 pursuant to E.O. 13572, which targets human rights abuses in Syria, for his role as the Commander of the IRGC-QF, the primary conduit for Iran's support to the Syrian General Intelligence Directorate (GID).

Hamed Abdollahi

Abdollahi is also a senior IRGC-QF officer who coordinated aspects of this operation. Abdollahi oversees other Qods Force officials - including Shahlai - who were responsible for coordinating and planning this operation.

Abdul Reza Shahlai

Shahlai is an IRGC-QF official who coordinated the plot to assassinate the Saudi Arabian Ambassador to the United States Adel Al-Jubeir, while he was in the United States and to carry out follow-on attacks against other countries' interests inside the United States and in another country. Shahlai worked through his cousin, Manssor Arbabsiar, who was named in the criminal complaint for conspiring to bring the IRGC-QF's plot to fruition. Shahlai approved financial allotments to Arbabsiar to help recruit other individuals for the plot, approving $5 million dollars as payment for all of the operations discussed.

The Cable

More actions against Iran coming soon in response to terror plot

The White House, State Department, and Treasury Department are all involved in developing new measures against the Iranian government that are to be announced "within hours," in response to a Iranian government-linked plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States.

Attorney General Eric Holder led a press conference on Tuesday to unveil the allegations against an Iranian-American and a member of Iran's Quds force, a unit of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, regarding an elaborate plot to work with Mexican drug cartels to assassinate Saudi Ambassador Adel bin Ahmed Al-Jubeir by bombing a restaurant in Washington. The bombing was alleged to be the first of a host of violent attacks inside the United States.

"The complaint alleges that this conspiracy was conceived, was sponsored and was directed from Iran and constitutes a flagrant violation of U.S. and international law, including a convention that explicitly protects diplomats from being harmed," Holder said. "The United States is committed to holding Iran responsible for its actions."

Calling it an "international murder for hire scheme," that was  "directed by factions of the Iranian government," Holder took reporters through a sting operation that began in May when Iranian-American Manssor Arbabsiar, a 56-year-old naturalized U.S. citizen, contacted an informant working on behalf of the Drug Enforcement Agency with a plan to kidnap the ambassador.

In subsequent discussions with the undercover agent, Arbabsiar updated the plot to include the assassination of the ambassador as the first of what U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara described as " a series of lethal attacks cooked up by the defendants and their cohorts in Iran."

Arbabsiar was allegedly working with his cousin, Gholam Shakuri, a member of the Quds force, and other Iranian agents. According to the complaint, filed today in the Southern District of New York, Shakuri aided Arbabsiar in sending $100,000 to a U.S. bank account as a down payment for the assassination.

Arbasiar and Shakuri were charged on Tuesday with conspiracy to murder a foreign official; conspiracy to engage in foreign travel and use of interstate and foreign commerce facilities in the commission of murder-for-hire; conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction (explosives); and conspiracy to commit an act of international terrorism transcending national boundaries.  Arbabsiar is also charged with an additional count of foreign travel and use of interstate and foreign commerce facilities in the commission of murder-for-hire.

Arbabsiar was arrested in New York on Sept. 29 after he was denied entry into Mexico. He had been in Iran finalizing details of the plot. Holder said the Mexican government had aided in the months-long investigation. He also said that Arbabsiar had confessed in custody and was cooperating with investigators.

"This case illustrates that we live in a world where borders and boundaries are increasingly irrelevant," said FBI Director Robert Mueller. "Though it reads like the pages of a Hollywood script, the impact would have been very real and many lives would have been lost."

"President Obama was first briefed on this issue in June and directed the administration to provide all necessary support to this investigation," Tommy Vietor, National Security Council spokesman, said in a statement.

"The disruption of this plot is a significant achievement by our intelligence and law enforcement agencies, and the president is enormously grateful for their exceptional work in this instance and countless others."