Iranian assassins tied to notorious Quds force

Wire transfers, phone conversations, face-to-face meetings link man who hired under-cover agent and Quds Force commander, his cousin.

By REUTERS, JPOST.COM STAFF
October 15, 2011 11:50
2 minute read.
Iran's Revolutinary Guard

Iranian Revolutionary Guard 311 (R). (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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US Federal authorities accuse Manssor Arbabsiar and Gholam Shakuri, who officials describe as a "case officer" for the Quds Force, with plotting to assassinate the Saudi ambassador, Adel al-Jubeir.

Court papers indicate that some of Arbabsiar's conversations discussing the alleged plot with the government informant were recorded. The documents also say that after his arrest Arbabsiar confessed to the plot, and disclosed that one of his cousins in Iran, whom US officials identified as Abdul Reza Shahlai, was a high-ranking Quds Force official.

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Shahlai is a member of militant Shi'a cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's notorious brigade, which is infamous for attacking American soldiers in Iraq.

According to a report by the Washington Post, Arbabsiar and Shahlai grew up together in the Iranian city of Kermanshah, now called Bakhtaran.

In the 1970's Arbabsiar moved to Texas, but remained in contact with his cousin. It was on a visit to Iran earlier this year that the Shahlai, now a commander in the Revolutionary Guard's elite Quds Force, recruited him to make contact with a drug cartel, initially to kidnap, but then later simply to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador to the United States, Adel al-Jubeir, according to the report.

Under the supervision of investigators, Arbabsiar also recorded an incriminating phone conversation earlier this month with Gholam Shakuri back in Iran.

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US authorities say that before his arrest, Arbabsiar facilitated two wire transfers, totaling just under $100,000 from overseas to a US bank account controlled by American investigators.

US officials have declined to provide precise details regarding the money's point of origin or how it was transferred to the United States. But they say that still-secret information about the wire transfers provides strong evidence corroborating the involvement of Quds Force operatives in the alleged plot.

In addition to wire transfer evidence which pointed to Quds Force, US officials said a significant body of intelligence was found corroborating the role of Shahlai, Arbabsiar's cousin, as a Quds Force commander who had previously been involved in anti-US operations in the region. This intelligence, which is still classified, helped convince skeptics inside the government that the plot was real.

But many outside experts, and at least some officials inside the government, remain wary, with some expressing concern that the administration of President Barack Obama is inflating the significance of a questionable plot to score political and diplomatic points against Tehran.

A former US intelligence official said it was unlikely that FBI Director Robert Mueller and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would publicly tout the alleged Iranian government angle if they had qualms about the intelligence.

"There are too many people who are defending it to think it's totally bogus," a former intelligence official said.

But the official added: "I'm having a real hard time believing it is as orchestrated and centrally run as they seem to be implying. If it weren't for the fact that there were so many people standing up and publicly talking about it who ought to know, then I would be even more skeptical."

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