WASHINGTON (AP) — The Justice Department on Tuesday accused agents of the Iranian government of being involved in a plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States, with help from a purported member of a Mexican drug cartel.
Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said the U.S. would hold Iran accountable.
Two people, including a member of Iran's special operations unit known as the Quds Force, were charged in New York federal court. Mr. Holder said the bomb plot was a flagrant violation of U.S. and international law.
"We will not let other countries use our soil as their battleground," Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney in Manhattan, said at a news conference in Washington with Mr. Holder and FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III.
Manssor Arbabsiar, a 56-year-old U.S. citizen who also holds an Iranian passport, was charged along with Gholam Shakuri, who authorities said was a Quds Force member.
Mr. Mueller said many lives could have been lost in the plot to kill the ambassador with bombs in the U.S.
Mr. Holder said the U.S. government would be taking unspecified action against the Iranian government as early as Tuesday. Asked whether the plot was blessed by the top echelons of the Iranian government, Mr. Holder said the Justice Department was not making that accusation.
Mr. Arbabsiar unknowingly hired an informant from the Drug Enforcement Administration to carry out the plot, prosecutors said. Posing as a member of a Mexican drug cartel, the informant met with Mr. Arbabsiar several times in Mexico, authorities said. The price tag was $1.5 million, and Mr. Arbabsiar made a $100,000 down payment.
Mr. Bharara said no explosives were actually placed, and no one was in any danger.
Mr. Shakuri remains at large. Mr. Arbabsiar was arrested Sept. 29 at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport. He was scheduled to appear in federal court Tuesday. Prosecutors said he faces up to life in prison if convicted.
Prosecutors said Mr. Arbabsiar has confessed to his participation in the murder plot.
President Obama first was briefed on the plot in June, White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said.
"The disruption of this plot is a significant achievement by our intelligence and law enforcement agencies, and the president is enormously grateful for their exceptional work in this instance and countless others," Mr. Vietor said.