FULL TRANSCRIPT: Iran-Tied Terror Plot Press Conference
Below are the full remarks given by Eric Holder, Robert Mueller, Lisa Monaco and Preet Bharara on Tuesday at a news conference regarding an Iran-tied terror plot on U.S. soil:
ATTORNEY GENERAL ERIC HOLDER:
Good afternoon. Today the Department of Justice is announcing charges against two people who allegedly attempted to carry out a deadly plot directed by factions of the Iranian government to assassinate a foreign ambassador here in the United States.
Manssor Arbabsiar, a naturalized United States citizen who holds an Iranian passport
and was arrested last month in New York, is accused of working with members of an arm of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps to devise an International murder-for-hire scheme targeting the Saudi Arabian ambassador to the United States.
According to the complaint filed today in the Southern District of New York, Arbabsiar is alleged to have orchestrated a $1.5 million assassination plot with Gholam Shakuri, an Iran-based member of Iran's Qods Force and other Iranian co-conspirators.
Now, the Qods Force is unit of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps that is also suspected of sponsoring attacks against the coalition forced in Iraq and was designated by the Department of Treasury in 2007 for providing material support to the Taliban and other terrorist organizations.
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.
In addition to holding these individual conspirators accountable for their alleged role in this plot, the United States is committed to holding Iran accountable for its actions. Arbabsiar and Shakuri are charged with conspiracy to murder a foreign official, conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction and conspiracy to commit an act of international terrorism; among other charges.
Arbabsiar has been in custody since September the 29th, 2011. Shakuri, based in Iran, remains at large. According to the complaint, earlier this spring Arbabsiar met with a confidential informant from the Drug Enforcement Administration who was posing as an associate of a violent international drug trafficking cartel.
The meeting, which took place in May and in Mexico, was the first of a series that would result in an international conspiracy by elements of the Iranian government to pay the informant $1.5 million to murder the ambassador on United States soil; according to documents filed today in court.
According to the complaint, those discussions lead Arbabsiar, with Shakuri's approval, to facilitate the wiring of approximately $100,000 into a bank account in the United States as a down payment for the attempted assassination.
The complaint also states that in the days since the defendants arrest, he has confessed to his participation in the alleged plot as well as providing other valuable information about elements of the Iranian government's role in it.
The disruption of this alleged plot marks a significant achievement by our law enforcement and our intelligent agencies as well as the close cooperation to our partners in the Mexican government. I want to commend the outstanding work of the agencies that were involved in this investigation, including the FBI and Director Mueller who is here with us today, as well as the Drug Enforcement Administration and Michelle Lenheart.
Their agents and their analysts worked closely with prosecutors here at the Department's International Security division as well as in the Southern District of New York over these many months to monitor this alleged conspiracy, obtain valuable information and bring one of the primary plotters to justice.
And I'd like to thank them for their remarkable work and now I'd like to turn it over to Director Mueller.
FBI DIRECTOR ROBERT MUELLER:
Good afternoon. This case illustrates that we live in a world where borders and boundaries are increasingly irrelevant. A world where individuals from one country sought to conspire with a drug trafficking cartel in another country to assassinate a foreign official on United States soil. And though it reads like the pages of a Hollywood script, the impact would've been very real. And many lives would have been lost.
These individuals had no regard for their intended victim, no regard for innocent citizens who might've been hurt or killed in this attempted assassination. They had no regard for the rule of law.
With these charges, we bring the full weight of that law to bear on those responsible. We send a clear message that any attempts on American soil will not be tolerated.
This was not a typical case for any of us. Given the global ties we unraveled in the scope of the plot itself, but it represents the full range of threats we face and it illustrates the need for continued collaboration. Collaboration between agencies, departments ... collaborations between countries.
We've said it many times before, but it does bear repeating. It is only working side by side that we are able to stop plots like this before they can take hold. We will continue to work together to find and stop those who seek to do us harm, whether they attempt to strike overseas or here at home. Whether it is a conspiracy to kill a foreign official on U.S. soil, a terrorists attack on United States citizens or street crimes on our communities. Now, let me turn it over to Lisa Monaco.
ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL FOR NATIONAL SECURITY LISA MONACO:
Thank you very much, Direct Mueller. I want to echo the remarks of the attorney general and others here today thanking those involved in this operation. This is a significant milestone and achievement in our national security efforts.
As you have heard, the facts as alleged today, in today's criminal complaint, shed light on an assassination plot that was conceived and sponsored by elements of the Iranian government. Thanks to a coordinated law enforcement effort, we were able to penetrate and thwart the plot before it could result in harm to the ambassador or anyone else.
I want to thank the men and women of the national security division, in particular those from the division of counter terrorism section and other sections within the division for their efforts in helping to shepherd this case. And for their efforts in the extensive coordination that was required to arrive at today's result.
This case, perhaps more than any in recent memory, involved an incredible amount of collaboration with partners over several months. Were it not for the hard work of the division and its many partners, we wouldn't be standing here today. I want to thank our partners in the U.S. attorney's office for the southern district of New York for their extensive and hard work on this matter. I also want to acknowledge the work of the prosecutors in the Houston U.S. Attorney's office, and of course the many investigators that the FBI, the DEA and the New York Joint Terrorism task force. They deserve a special commendation for thwarting this plot and obtaining information on those behind it.
Finally, I want to thank the intelligence community for its critical role in this matter. The national security division was designed to serve as the place where intelligence and law enforcement come together at the justice department. I am proud to say that we served that purpose here. This case demonstrates exactly how the division is supported to work and should serve as a model for future cases. Thank you and I'd like to introduce the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Preet Bharara.
U.S. ATTORNEY FOR SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK PREET BHARARA:
Thank you, Assistant Attorney General Monaco. As has been described, the complaint unsealed today reveals a well funded and pernicious plot that has added, as its first priority, the assassination of the Saudi ambassador to the United States.
The details of that murder plot are chilling to say the least. As the defendants allegedly had no care or concern about inflicting mass casualties on innocent Americans on American soil in furtherance of their assassination plan. For example, as set forth in the complaint, when the confidential source noted that there could be 100-150 people in a fictional restaurant whether a quested bombing would take place, including possibly members of the United States Congress, the lead defendant acting on behalf of a component of the government of Iran said, "No problem and no big deal."
And as we alleged, the defendants showed that they were more than ready, willing and able to carry out their plan by among other things causing $100,000 wired to a New York bank as a deadly down payment for their hired gun. And it didn't stop there; the Saudi ambassador's assassination was allegedly intended as merely the opening act in a series of lethal attacks cooked up by the defendants and their cohorts in Iran.
Like the speakers before me, I would like to thank all the partners responsible for unraveling this plot before it even got off the ground. Our work, as has been said, is a product of a collaborative effort among intelligence and law enforcement agencies that share an unflagging commitment to keeping America safe both at home and abroad and protecting representatives from foreign governments, while they are guests in our country.
I want to commend Director Mueller and the FBI for its outstanding work on this unprecedented and very much ongoing investigation. Specifically also, the Houston FBI office for its tremendous work and also the New York Joint terrorism task force and our partner in so many cases.