In a development that is bound to further strain their already tenuous relations, the US on Tuesday accused Iran of plotting to assassinate the Saudi Arabian ambassador in Washington.
Two men -- Mansoor Arbabsiar, an American citizen of Iranian descent, and Gholam Shakuri, described as member of Iran’s Qods Force – were charged with conspiring to kill the Saudi ambassador Adel al-Jubeir.
While Shakuri remains at large, Arbabsiar was arrested on September 29.
The US has reacted to the plot with predictable outrage. In a call to Jubeir, President Barack Obama said this plot is a “flagrant violation of US and international law”. And congressman Peter King called it an act of war.
Iran has denied any connection with the plot and called it a lie, a fabrication.
But that denial is not washing here.
"The criminal complaint unsealed today exposes a deadly plot directed by factions of the Iranian government to assassinate a foreign Ambassador on US soil with explosives," said Attorney General Holder at a news briefing.
The Qods Force is a wing of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps and the US believe it leads Iran’s transnational terrorist activities, including supporting the Lebanese Hezbollah and the Hamas in Palestine.
Its plot as it has unfolded read like a Hollywood script to FBI chief Frank Muller.
Tasked by the Qods Force to blow up the Saudi embassy, Arbabsiar met a hitman in Mexico, who, as it turned out, was a source for the US Drugs Enforcement Agency, said an FBI complaint filed in a New York court Tuesday.
Over next few meetings in June and July, the complaint said, Arbabsiar altered the mission. It was now to kill the ambassador. The hit man subsequently told Arbabsiar the job would cost $1.5 million, to which the latter agreed.
The attempt was to be made at a DC restaurant favoured by the ambassador.
When told that a lot of innocents may die in the restaurant was bombed to kill thr ambassador, the complaint quoted Arbabsiar saying, “They want that guy (Jubeir) done (killed), if the hundred go with him, f*** them.”
Arbabsiar offered to pay $100,000 as advance for the hit. And had it wired to a dummy account set up by the FBI in a New York bank. For the rest, he would travel to Mexico to offer himself as guarantor.
On September 28, he caught a flight for Mexico but he was not allowed to disembark on landing. He was sent right back to where he had started. But not quite, he found himself in New York instead.
The complaint said he has confessed to his role.
Now the two big questions for the US to answer: What will it do now about Arbabsiar’s Iranian accomplice, the Qods force officer? Or what about the act of war by Iran by plotting an assassination on US soil?
Representative King, who heads the house committee on homeland security, has demanded some "sign of military action". And a senior Obama administration official told CNN the Iranian plot was a "dangerous escalation".