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NEW YORK: An Iranian-born used car salesman from Texas admitted yesterday that he had participated in a plan hatched by Iranian spies to kill the Saudi ambassador to Washington.
Manssor Arbabsiar, 57, pleaded guilty in US District Court in Manhattan to a three-count indictment. He said the plan had been to assassinate the ambassador at a restaurant in Washington last year, and that his co-conspirators had included Iranian military officials.
The plot claim, which involved attempts to hire Mexican drug traffickers to commit the murder, was fiercely denied by Tehran and caused confusion among security experts who questioned why the Islamic republic would back such a bizarre scheme.
The purported drug cartel representative whom Arbabsiar hired turned out to be a US confidential informant. Authorities said no weapons were ever acquired for the plot and the Saudi ambassador was never harmed.
Arbabsiar was charged along with Gholam Shakuri, who the United States says is a member of the Quds Force, the covert arm of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, in a plot to assassinate Saudi Ambassador Adel Al Jubeir. Shakuri remains at large.
Arbabsiar was arrested on Septemebr 29, 2011, when he arrived at John F Kennedy International Airport from Mexico. He is a naturalised US citizen and holds an Iranian passport.
At yesterday’s plea hearing before US District Judge John Keenan in Manhattan, Arbabsiar first appeared smiling and relaxed, but soon seemed to become nervous.
Asked by the judge if he could follow along in English, Arbabsiar said yes, but admitted he had some difficulties with the language: “I’m not too educated, you know,” Arbabsiar said.
Dressed in blue prison garb with a scar running down his left cheek, Arbabsiar told the court he sold cars in Austin, Texas, before his arrest.
Arbabsiar said he travelled to Mexico twice in 2011, once from Iran. In Mexico, he and others hired a man named “Junior” to help “kidnap a person who was the ambassador to the United States.”
“Were you gonna kill him too as well as kidnap?” the judge asked.
“Yes, yes,” Arbabsiar replied, but insisted the idea to murder the ambassador had been the Mexican operative’s. By pleading guilty to three counts, Arbabsiar now faces a likely maximum of 25 years in prison. REUTERS