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Justice Dept: US Foils Alleged Iran Terror Plot; Pastor's Death Sentence Voided

11 Oct 2011 10:15Comments

Press Roundup provides a selected summary of news from the Farsi and Arabic press and excerpts where the source is in English. Tehran Bureau has not verified these stories and does not vouch for their accuracy. Please refer to the Media Guide to help put the stories in perspective. You can follow breaking news stories on our Twitter feed.

Iran Standard Time (IRST), GMT+3:30

arbabsiar2 a.m., 20 Mehr/October 12 Click on link to download the 21-page complaint IranComplaintArbabsiarShakuri.pdf.

10:25 p.m., 19 Mehr/October 11 Following are excerpts from the U.S. Justice Department's news release describing the alleged plot.

A criminal complaint filed today in the Southern District of New York charges Manssor Arbabsiar (pictured), a 56-year-old naturalized U.S. citizen holding both Iranian and U.S. passports, and Gholam Shakuri, an Iran-based member of Iran's Qods Force, which is a special operations unit of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) that is said to sponsor and promote terrorist activities abroad.

Both defendants are charged 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 further charged with an additional count of foreign travel and use of interstate and foreign commerce facilities in the commission of murder-for-hire.

Shakuri remains at large. Arbabsiar was arrested on Sept. 29, 2011, at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport and will make his initial appearance today [...] in federal court in Manhattan. He faces a maximum potential sentence of life in prison if convicted of all the charges. [...]

The criminal complaint alleges that, from the spring of 2011 to October 2011, Arbabsiar and his Iran-based co-conspirators, including Shakuri of the Qods Force, have been plotting the murder of the Saudi Ambassador to the United States. In furtherance of this conspiracy, Arbabsiar allegedly met on a number of occasions in Mexico with a DEA confidential source (CS-1) who has posed as an associate of a violent international drug trafficking cartel. According to the complaint, Arbabsiar arranged to hire CS-1 and CS-1's purported accomplices to murder the Ambassador, and Shakuri and other Iran-based co-conspirators were aware of and approved the plan. With Shakuri's approval, Arbabsiar has allegedly caused approximately $100,000 to be wired into a bank account in the United States as a down payment to CS-1 for the anticipated killing of the Ambassador, which was to take place in the United States.

According to the criminal complaint, the IR[GC] is an arm of the Iranian military that is composed of a number of branches, one of which is the Qods Force. The Qods Force conducts sensitive covert operations abroad, including terrorist attacks, assassinations and kidnappings, and is believed to sponsor attacks against Coalition Forces in Iraq. In October 2007, the U.S. Treasury Department designated the Qods Force for providing material support to the Taliban and other terrorist organizations. [...]

In a July 17, 2011, meeting in Mexico, CS-1 noted to Arbabsiar that one of his workers had already traveled to Washington, D.C., to surveil the Ambassador. CS-1 also raised the possibility of innocent bystander casualties. The complaint alleges that Arbabsiar made it clear that the assassination needed to go forward, despite mass casualties, telling CS-1, "They want that guy [the Ambassador] done [killed], if the hundred go with him f**k 'em." CS-1 and Arbabsiar allegedly discussed bombing a restaurant in the United States that the Ambassador frequented. When CS-1 noted that others could be killed in the attack, including U.S. senators who dine at the restaurant, Arbabsiar allegedly dismissed these concerns as "no big deal." [...]

[After his arrest,] Arbabsiar allegedly told agents that his cousin, who he had long understood to be a senior member of the Qods Force, had approached him in the early spring of 2011 about recruiting narco-traffickers to kidnap the Ambassador. Arbabsiar told agents that he then met with the CS-1 in Mexico and discussed assassinating the Ambassador. According to the complaint, Arbabsiar said that, afterwards, he met several times in Iran with Shakuri and another senior Qods Force official, where he explained that the plan was to blow up a restaurant in the United States frequented by the Ambassador and that numerous bystanders could be killed, according to the complaint. The plan was allegedly approved by these officials.

9:55 p.m., 19 Mehr/October 11 Asked whether the Justice Department's complaint specifically holds the Iranian government responsible for the alleged plot, Attorney General Holder said that the organization charged with masterminding the operation "is a component of the Iranian government." More specifically, he said, "senior officials of the Quds force" -- the special and foreign operations division of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps -- directed the alleged plot. He refrained from addressing the question of whether the U.S. government believes that other Iranian authorities were knowledgeable of it.

9:45 p.m., 19 Mehr/October 11 U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and FBI Director Robert Mueller are now confirming the disruption of the alleged Iran-linked plot to assassinate the Saudi Arabian ambassador to the United States.

9:30 p.m., 19 Mehr/October 11 ABC News is carrying a report, sourced to "federal officials," that agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Drug Enforcement Administration foiled an alleged plot to commit a "significant terrorist act in the United States" purportedly tied to Iran. According to ABC,

The officials said the plot included the assassination of the Saudi Arabian ambassador to the United States, Adel Al-Jubeir, with a bomb and subsequent bomb attacks on the Saudi and Israeli embassies in Washington, D.C. [...]

[The] case, called Operation Red Coalition, began in May when an Iranian-American from Corpus Christi, Texas, approached a DEA informant seeking the help of a Mexican drug cartel to assassinate the Saudi ambassador, according to counter-terrorism officials. [...]

The Iranian-American, identified by federal officials as Manssor Arbabsiar, 56, reportedly claimed he was being "directed by high ranking members of the Iranian government," including a cousin who was "a member of the Iranian army but did not wear a uniform," according to a person briefed on the details of the case. Counter-terrorism officials said they believe the cousin may be part of the special operations unit of the Revolutionary Guard, the Quds force.

U.S. officials said Arbabsiar met twice in July with the DEA informant in the northern Mexico city of Reynosa, across the border from McAllen, Texas, and negotiated a $1.5 million payment for the assassination of the Saudi ambassador. As a down payment, officials said Arbabsiar wired two payments of $49,960 on Aug. 1 and Aug. 9 to an FBI undercover bank account after he had returned to Iran.

A spokeswoman at the Saudi Embassy in Washington, D.C., said she had no knowledge of the alleged plot, and there has as yet been no official confirmation of the ABC News account by any U.S. government body.

Updated: Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast condemned all acts of terrorism and denied any involvement by Iran. "It's an old trick," he said by Iran's enemies and in pursuit of helping Israel from "its international isolation." Mehmanparast said that Saudi-Iran relations are based on mutual respect and such false claims would not hurt their relationship.

8:45 p.m., 19 Mehr/October 11 Our columnist Muhammad Sahimi provided the following item:

The office of public relations, information, and propaganda of the president issued a statement in which it condemned what it called the "lies of the counter-revolutionary mass media about the lashing of a young man as a result of insulting the president," and said that he was lashed not as punishment for insulting the president because the president's office never filed a complaint against him with the judiciary. The statement refers to Peyman Aref, the university activist who was lashed 74 times at the end of his one-year jail sentence. Aref had written a letter to Ahmadinejad titled, "Do you know what you have done to the universities?" The letter was highly critical, but devoid of any insult. Aref has been expelled from his school. Addressing an assembly of city governors today, Ahmadinejad reportedly said, "When senior officials insult the government freely, I do not wish a young man to be lashed due to insulting me."

4:55 p.m., 19 Mehr/October 11 According to a statement posted on the Iranian judiciary's website, pastor Yousef Nadarkhani's death sentence has been revoked by the High Court.

Nadarkhani, 33, was arrested and sentenced to death in the northern Iranian city of Rasht in 2009. An appeals court upheld his sentence last year after he refused to reconvert to Islam, his lawyer Mohammad Ali Dadkhah told Reuters earlier this month.

The case will be remanded to the lower court that issued the original death sentence. That court will rehear the case and issue a new verdict and punishment, which may or may not be death. That new sentence can likewise be appealed.

IRIHangingsHome.jpg10:15 a.m., 19 Mehr/October 11 Our columnist Muhammad Sahimi compiled the following news items and commentary:
On Monday, the European Union expanded sanctions against Iran due to continued human rights abuses. During a meeting of E.U. foreign ministers, 29 Iranian officials were added to the list of already sanctioned officials, who face visa bans and asset freezes. British Foreign Secretary William Hague said that the action aims to increase pressure on Iran to improve "its appalling human rights record." He added, "Today's decision sends a clear message to every individual on this list, and others in the Iranian regime, that we will not stand by. They will be held to account for their actions and should not involve themselves in the appalling abuses we continue to witness." The list includes executive and judiciary officials, members of the security forces, and prison staff who are responsible for "serious human rights violations." Catherine Ashton, the E.U. foreign policy chief, added her voice by saying, "I really call upon the Iranians to live up to their international obligations and to fully respect the rights of their people."

The BBC reports that three ministers in the Ahmadinejad administration are among the newly sanctioned officials. They are Intelligence Minister Heydar Moslehi, Interior Minister Brigadier General Mostafa Mohammad Najar, and Culture and Islamic Guidance Minister Mohammad Hosseini.

Between October 2010 and September 2011, 480 people were executed in Iran, 46 of whom were publicly hanged. Over the same period, 641 have received death sentences.

On the occasion of the birthday of Imam Reza, the Shiites' Eighth Imam, a group of political prisoners who were released at the end of Ramadan met with former President Mohammad Khatami. He recalled all the political prisoners, particularly those held in Rajaei Shahr Prison near Karaj, west of Tehran, and expressed hope that they would all soon be released. Regarding the upcoming Majles elections next March, Khatami said that the people's right to decide their own fate is their most fundamental right, which can only be fulfilled through truly free elections, which are the pillar of democracy. He emphasized that the conditions that he set a few months ago for the reformists to take part in the elections -- the unconditional release of all political prisoners, freedom of the press, freedom for political groups, elimination of the Guardian Council's vetting power, nonintervention by the military and security forces in political and economic affairs, and unmanipulated elections -- are not only the minimum conditions of the reformists, but also of a large majority of the nation.

Hardline Majles deputy and former Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps officer Ali Reza Zakani was selected to head the principlists' Majles campaign. The selection was made by the so-called 7+8 Committee that is headed by Ayatollah Mohammad Reza Mahdavi Kani, the conservative cleric and chairman of the Assembly of Experts. Former Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki was selected to be the secretary-general of the executive committee for the elections.

While every major reformist figure has said that the reformists will not take part in the upcoming Majles elections, the hardliners continue to spread rumors to the contrary. In the latest version of those rumors, the hardliners are claiming that the reformists have formed a 7+1 committee to direct their participation in the elections. The "7" members are supposed to be Seyyed Hassan Khomeini, Seyyed Hadi Khamenei (half-brother of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei), former Interior Minister Ali Akbar Mohtashamipour, cleric Majid Ansari (a member of the Expediency Discernment Council), cleric Rasoul Montajabnia, former First Vice President Mohammad Reza Aref, and former Ambassador to France Sadegh Karrazi, while the "1" member is supposedly Mohammad Khatami. When Seyyed Yaser Khomeini, Seyyed Hassan's younger brother was asked about the committee, he replied, "Such stories do not have much to do with the truth." Ansari also said that the rumors are false.

At the same time, hardline cleric Ahmad Khatami (no relation to the former president) claimed, "There are still a few months to the elections and there are some people [meaning the reformists] who are whispering that they will not take part in the elections in order to create a cold environment for the election for the people, and reduce the glory of people's participation, and it appears that this is the continuation of the sedition [the Green Movement] of 2009." He added, "We tell them not to insist on their wrongful path, return to the nation as soon as possible in order not to be despised more."

The heads of the three branches of the political system, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Majles Speaker Ali Larijani, and judiciary chief Sadegh Larijani, met to discuss what they called important domestic and foreign issues. Ali Larijani was the host for the meeting, which took place in the Majles building in Baharestan Square in central Tehran.

Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari, the top Revolutionary Guard commander, said that Supreme Leader Khamenei has put no limitations on the Guards' mission to defend the Islamic Revolution. This presumably means that the Guards can intervene in all affairs of the nation under the guise of "defending the Revolution." Jafari added that not only are the Guards the "armed arm of the Supreme Leader," but also his "unarmed arm."

In his weekly press conference on Monday, Prosecutor-General Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejei, who is also the spokesman for the judiciary and special prosecutor for the multibillion-dollar embezzlement case, said that an arrest warrant will soon be issued for Mahmoud Reza Khavari, former chief of Bank Melli, Iran's largest bank, who resigned and fled to Canada. He claimed that no one in the government knew that Khavari has dual Iranian Canadian citizenship and that his family actually lives in Canada. He added that Khavari left Iran on an official trip, but did not return, and that 14 other people have been arrested in relation with the embezzlement.

At the same time, the Iranian mass media continue to publish details of Khavari's family and their lives in Canada. Ayandeh, the website that is close to Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, has just published photos of Khavari's son Ardavan Khvari, who is said to own six companies in Canada -- one of which has a branch in Israel -- and his daughter Pardis Khavari, who is seen in a photo with her brother without any Islamic hejab.

But Majles deputy Mohammad Karami Rad, a member of the National Security and Foreign Policy Commission, claimed that another deputy has presented documents indicating that Khavari was born to a rich family and is innocent in the embezzlement case. The deputy has said that Khavari's wife was also born to a rich family. At the same time, Economic and Financial Affairs Minister Seyyed Shamseddin Hosseini said that the government has so far been able to recover 25 percent of the embezzled funds. Nonetheless, a proposal to impeach Hosseini is scheduled to be submitted to the Majles on Tuesday.

Controversy has been stirred by a photo that shows Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran's permanent representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency, sitting at Israel's desk at the agency, discussing some issue with the Irish representative.

On September 28, the Majles approved a plan for overseeing the performance of parliamentary deputies. According to the plan, if a deputy violates certain rules, he can be punished in a variety of ways and eventually even expelled. The idea for the plan was suggested over a year ago by Khamenei. Many prominent legislators have protested the plan, saying that it will basically eliminate deputies' rights to criticize government actions. The Organization of Islamic Revolution Mojahedin (OIRM), a leading reformist group that was outlawed after the 2009 presidential election, has issued a statement harshly criticizing the plan.

The statement declared that the process of limiting the authority of the Majles began after the 1989 death of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, when the Guardian Council was given vetting power over electoral candidates. Over time, the control over the Majles became so severe that in the elections for the Seventh Majles in 2004, two thirds of the parliament seats were already decided before a single vote was cast. The statement pointed out that the new law is vague about "moral and anti-national security acts" of the deputies and will be used to expel those deputies that are not supported by the ruling group, whereas Article 86 of the Constitution stipulates that the deputies are free to express their opinion about any issue. In addition, the statement said, many bylaws of the new law are against the laws governing the Majles. The OISM declared that the new law is "an important and decisive step toward absolute dictatorship of a person [Khamenei] and represents the continuation of the path that began after the election coup of 2009. With the approval of this law, there is no hope for critical voices in the Majles against dictatorship and in defense of the nation's rights."

Rajjabali Mazrooei, a reformist deputy in the reformist-controlled Sixth Majles (2000-4) and now spokesman for the OIRM outside Iran, said in an article that the approval of the new law represents the death of the Majles.

On Monday, students at Amir Kabir University of Technology in Tehran went on a hunger strike to protest the mysterious death of Ameneh Zanganeh, a graduate student in polymer engineering who passed away in the school's dormitories. This was the fifth consecutive day in which the students have protested the death of Zanganeh. They have demanded the resignation of the school's hardline chancellor, Hamid Reza Rahaei.

Fifty-six Sunni Muslim preachers have been sentenced to a total of 164 years of incarceration. They are mostly in Kurdish areas, including the cities of Saghez, Mahabad, Sardasht, Bookan, Sanandaj, Javanrood, Piranshahr, and Oshnavieh.

Mohammad Ali Dadkhah, the attorney for Yousef Nadarkhani, the Iranian Muslim who converted to Christianity and became a preacher, said that the fate of his client is in the hands of Khamenei. Nadarkhani has been sentenced to death for apostasy. Dadkhah added that a court in Rasht in Gilan province that handled the case has asked Khamenei to issue a fatwa and whatever he says will be considered as the final verdict. However, in his Monday press conference Prosecutor-General Mohseni Ejei said that Nadarkhani has not been sentenced to death.

Reza Khandan, husband of imprisoned attorney and human rights advocate Nasrin Sotoudeh, said that the prison officials have prevented his children from having a face-to-face meeting with their mother for the past three months. He added that he has asked many judiciary officials to allow the meeting, but has been rebuffed.

In news that received little international coverage, the European Union has appointed a senior Belgian diplomat to work with the United Nations, Iraq, and others to help resolve the plight of the more than 3,000 members of Mojahedin-e Khalgh Organization (MKO) who live in Camp Ashraf in Iraq. The diplomat, Jean De Ruyt, is a former Belgian ambassador to the E.U.; he will act as an adviser to E.U. foreign policy chief Ashton.

Mousa Soori, chief executive officer of the Pars Oil and Gas Company, said that a Chinese firm's contract to develop the North Pars gas field has been suspended. Soori added that the Chinese firm was supposed to develop phase 11 of the giant South Pars gas field, but the development is behind schedule and has been repeatedly delayed, and that the priority is with the South Pars field that Iran shares with Qatar.

An Iranian firm, Oil Industry Engineering and Construction Company (OIEC) has been granted a $1.9 billion contract to develop the Azar oil field that Iran shares with Iraq. Minister of Oil Rostam Ghasemi said that foreign companies prolonged the negotiations for developing the field, and therefore his ministry decided to grant the project to a domestic company. The field is supposed to be producing 30,000 barrels per day in three years and 65,000 barrels per day 55 months from now. Iran was negotiating with the giant Russian firm Gazprom to develop the field, but after three years, no agreement was reached.

The Mehr News Agency reports that the natural gas refinery in Ilam has suspended operation. The refinery has repeatedly stopped operations, only to resume it work again. At the same time, it has been reported that use of substandard equipments has also contributed to the problems that the refinery has been facing. But, the most important reason for the stoppage is lack of natural gas that is supposed to be fed to the refinery from the Bijar field.

Copyright © 2011 Tehran Bureau

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