The United States foiled an Iranian plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in Washington using Quds Force, a Revolutionary Guards elite unit, the main instrument for subversion and terrorism outside of Iran.

Iran1 TV, March 18, 2007

Iran1 TV, March 18, 2007

Overview of the current state of affairs

1. On October 11, 2011, the U.S. Attorney General announced that a plot to murder Adel al-Jubeir, the Saudi ambassador to the United States, was foiled. Involved in the murder plot were a dual U.S.-Iranian citizen and a commander in Iran’s Quds Force.1

2.  According to documents filed to the New York federal court, the two suspects in planning the murder are Manssor Arbabsiar and Gholam Shakuri, both natives of Iran. Manssor Arbabsiar, a dual U.S.-Iranian citizen, was detained in New York’s JFK International Airport on September 29. Gholam Shakuri, a top Quds Force operative who was Arbabsiar’s handler, was apparently able to flee to Iran. The two were charged with conspiracy to commit an act of terrorism and conspiracy to murder a foreign official.

3.   According to a hearing before the U.S. House of Representatives, the American administration has proof that Al-Jubeir’s attempted murder was organized by high-ranking members of the Revolutionary Guards. American administration officials said that these members were "directed by elements of the Iranian government”, but did not reveal any additional information. One of the members is Quds Force commander Qassem Suleimani, who was added to the list of specially designated global terrorists on October 11, 2011, when the administration exposed the affair. The reason given for his designation as a terrorist was that, as commander of the Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force, Qassem Suleimani "oversees the IRGC-QF officers who were involved in this plot”.2

Iran1 TV, March 18, 2007
Major General Qassem Suleimani, commander of the Quds Force since 1998, in uniform.
Left: Qassem Suleimani in a rare TV interview telling the story of a comrade
who died in the Iran-Iraq War (Iran1 TV, March 18, 2007)

4.   The indictment describes a plan to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States. After the plot was exposed, the media reported that the Iranians were subsequently planning to hit the Israeli embassy in Washington and the embassies of Israel and Saudi Arabia in Argentina. In response to the reports, Department of State spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said that there were no other targets other than that specified in the report, i.e., the assassination of the Saudi ambassador to the United States (Department of State website, October 13, 2011).

5.   Since the press conference, the American administration has provided a wealth of details about the plot. U.S. President Barack Obama demanded answers from the government of Iran, saying that the facts of the plan were not in dispute. He said that the scheme involved the highest levels of the Iranian regime, ascribing it to a pattern of "reckless and dangerous” behavior by the government of Iran. The U.S. president promised effective American measures in response (AFP, October 13, 2011). The United States did take a series of diplomatic and practical measures following the incident (see below).


6.  Subversion and terrorism led by the Quds Force are important instruments traditionally employed by Iran’s policy since the Islamic regime came to power. The Quds Force is involved in a wide variety of covert activities outside the borders of Iran, including subversion, intelligence collection, and terrorism. The hearing before the U.S. House of Representatives offered examples of a number of terrorist activities and attacks carried out by Iranian agents against various targets, particularly in the Middle East, Europe, and South America.3 According to the hearing, as of the 1980s, Iranian agents have been engaged in operations also in the United States. Such covert activities included assassinations of opponents and intelligence collection, so that the present incident is not the first of its kind.4

7.  Past experience shows that the terrorist attacks perpetrated by the Quds Force across the globe have been authorized by top officials in the Iranian regime. In this context, the most revealing "case study” was the bombing of the Jewish Community Center in Buenos Aires (AMIA) in 1994, orchestrated by the top echelon of the Iranian regime, including its former president Ali Rafsanjani. Consequently, the Argentinean judge Rodolfo Canicoba issued international arrest warrants for seven Iranian senior officials and senior Hezbollah operative Imad Mughniyeh. These officials included the president of Iran, the ministers of intelligence and defense, the foreign minister, the Revolutionary Guards chief, and the commander of the Quds Force. Obviously, such a decision could not have been made without the approval of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, but Argentina’s judicial system preferred not to ask for an international arrest warrant for him.5

8.  Saudi Arabia, the target of the current terrorist attack, has traditionally been a target of subversion and terrorism from Iran. In the past, this was exemplified by Iranian subversion in Saudi territory and in Saudi-oriented Persian Gulf states (such as Bahrain), and even attempts to assassinate Saudi officials abroad. It appears that Saudi Arabia’s major role in the entry of a Gulf Cooperation Council force into Bahrain, viewed by Iran as its "backyard”, served as a catalyst for the launch of the recent terrorist operations against Saudi Arabia. In this context, it should be mentioned that several months before the attempted assassination of the Saudi ambassador in Washington, Iran eliminated a Saudi diplomat in Pakistan (see below).

9.  Targeting a Saudi diplomat in United States territory while risking the possibility of killing innocent Americans shows a great deal of daring on the part of the Quds Force and top officials in the Iranian regime. In our assessment, it is a good indication that they are willing to take substantial risks of complicating Iran’s relations with the United States, Saudi Arabia, and the entire international community. The goal is to advance and expand the campaign waged by Iran against the United States and its allies, including Israel and Saudi Arabia, in which the Quds Force is the main executive instrument.

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1 Quds Force is one of the five wings of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards. It is an elite unit established to create a well-organized environment for implementing the Iranian doctrine of "exporting the revolution” to the rest of the world. The Quds Force is involved in a wide variety of covert activities outside of Iran’s borders, from the establishment of education systems and indoctrination to spread the ideology of the Islamic revolution in Iran, to conducting subversive activities against Iran’s opponents in the Middle East and elsewhere, "dealing” with the regime’s opponents, and directing terrorist and guerilla infrastructures. For further details, see our April 2, 2007 Information Bulletin: "Using the Quds Force of the Revolutionary Guards as the main tool to export the revolution beyond the borders of Iran”.

2 Joint Hearing; U.S House of Representatives; Committee on Homeland Security; Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence; Subcommittee on Oversight, Investigations, and Management; "Iranian Terror Operations on American Soil”; Testimony by Matthew Levitt, director, Stein Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence; The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, October 26, 2011 (hereinafter: hearing before the U.S. House of Representatives).

3 Hearing before the U.S. House of Representatives, "Past Plots”, pp. 2-8.

4 The hearing before the U.S. House of Representatives provides examples of Iranian intelligence and assassination operations in the United States ("Past Plots”, pp. 2-8).

5 For details, see our November 14, 2006 Information Bulletin: "Argentina accuses Iran of responsibility for the Hezbollah terrorist attack which destroyed Jewish Community Center in Buenos Aires, 1994. The Argentinean Attorney General’s office announced it had found Iran responsible for the terrorist attack and an Argentinean judge issued arrest warrants for seven senior Iranians and one senior Hezbollah member”.