Defense & National Security

Iranian Man Pleads Guilty to Plot to Assassinate Saudi Ambassador

Iranian Man Pleads Guilty to Plot to Assassinate Saudi Ambassador

The Texas man accused of coordinating with Iranian special forces and a Mexican drug-trafficking cartel to assassinate the Saudi Arabian ambassador to the United States while in Washington, D.C. pleaded guilty to the charges Oct. 16.

The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) announced Oct. 16 that Manssor Arbabsiar accepted a plea agreement and would be sentenced on Jan. 23, 2013. He pleaded guilty to three counts, including using foreign commerce and using interstate foreign commerce facilities in murder-for-hire, conspiring to do so, and conspiring to commit an act of terrorism against the United States.

He faces a maximum potential sentence of 25 years in prison, according to the DEA’s announcement.

Arbabsiar’s charges are based on a legal document, called an amended criminal complaint, FBI agent O. Robert Woloszyn filed in October of last year. The complaint accuses Arbabsiar of coordinating with 2 members of the elite Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ Qods Force to hire an undercover DEA agent, purporting to be a member of the Mexican drug-trafficking cartel Los Zetas, to assassinate Adel Al-Jubeir, the Saudi ambassador to the United States.

Dr. Michael B. First, professor of psychiatry at the Columbia University Medical Center, testified in July that Arbabsiar suffers from bipolar disorder, and that he was likely in a manic state during the events leading up to his arrest. The relevant details are redacted from First’s testimony.

“When you’re involved in a legal case where somebody’s arrested, and you’re looking for anything that would help you to understand, especially a case like this where he’s pled guilty, bipolar is potentially revealing in understanding why he would do that,” First told Human Events.

Bipolar disorder is a mood disorder characterized by sweeping mood swings, between manic and depressive states, which can have strong effects on a person’s behavior and interactions with others.

“One of its key features is impaired judgment. People do things like spend all their money on a crazy idea because they think it’s right. When they’re manic, they feel that they’re invincible, they have special powers, they have wonderful ideas that they follow through on,” he said.

First is involved in Arbabsiar’s case because he has a great deal of expertise, including serving as editor of the current Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, a publication by the American Psychiatric Association that provides terminology and criteria for the classification of mental disorders, he said.

Arbabsiar’s lawyer, Federal Defense Attorney Sabrina Shroff, declined multiple requests for comment. Dr. Gregory B. Saathoff, the University of Virginia psychiatrist who contradicted First’s diagnosis, did not respond to multiple calls.

The embassy of Saudi Arabia in Washington, D.C. issued a statement regarding the guilty plea on Oct. 17.

“The Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia would like to reiterate its appreciation to the responsible agencies of the United States government for disrupting a plot to assassinate the Kingdom’s Ambassador to the U.S.,” the statement reads. “Today’s guilty plea is another step towards bringing to justice those responsible for this criminal plot.”

Media outlets, former and current officials from multiple governments, and other subject matter experts have expressed skepticism toward the validity of the DEA’s claims about Arbabsiar’s involvement in the plot.

Gregory L. Aftandilian, senior fellow for the Middle East at the Center for National Policy, said, “First of all, the operation seems to be a Mickey Mouse operation. That’s why a lot of people have real doubts whether Iran was behind it, because normally they engage in much more sophisticated attacks, much more sophisticated planning.”

“Maybe it wasn’t properly vetted by the upper echelons of the al-Qods,” he said. “So that’s a possibility, but be that as it may, with the money that was involved, somebody in the upper echelons approved it. Because money doesn’t just appear that way.”

Iranian-Saudi relations have been very poor for some time, so it’s not surprising that the Iranians may try to target a leading Saudi official, he said.

Efraim Halevy, former head of the Institute for Intelligence and Special Operations, the Israeli intelligence agency known as Mossad, said, “We didn’t need this particular case in order to prove once again that the Iranians have been involved in terrorist activities against persons, against states, and against countries for a long time.”

“Iran uses terrorism as a major tool of its international relations. It’s as simple as all that,” he said.

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