Obama urged to expel Iranian diplomats after D.C. terror plot foiled

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The GOP chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee is calling on the Obama administration to expel Iranian diplomats, after U.S. officials said Tehran was behind a plot to murder the Saudi ambassador in Washington.

“While I intend to support the president’s ultimate decision, I believe that he should consider expelling Iranian officials, especially known intelligence officers, from the Iranian Mission to the United Nations in New York, and the Iranian Interests Section in Washington,” said Rep. Peter King, New York Republican, in a statement.

Mr King said that if the terror plot — in reality an elaborate sting put together by a paid DEA informant — had succeeded, it would have been “an act of war” by Iran against the U.S. and Saudi Arabia.

On Tuesday, U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said elements of the Iranian government were behind a plot to recruit a Mexican drug cartel to kill the ambassador by bombing a Washington restaurant.

“This conspiracy was conceived, was sponsored and was directed from Iran” by officials there, Mr. Holder said during a Justice Department news conference to announce a criminal indictment against two men. He vowed to “hold Iran accountable.”

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast denied any involvement by Tehran, telling Iran’s Press TV that the accusations were “ludicrous” and a “prefabricated scenario.”

Manssor Arbabsiar, 56, a naturalized U.S. citizen who holds Iranian and U.S. passports, and Gholam Shakuri, a Tehran-based senior official in Iran’s Qods Force, face multiple charges, including conspiracy to murder a foreign official, conspiracy to use interstate and foreign commerce facilities in the commission of murder for hire, and conspiracy to commit an act of international terrorism.

Mr. Arbabsiar is in custody in New York, and Mr. Shakuri is at large and believed to be in Iran, Mr. Holder said.

Later Tuesday, the Treasury Department announced it was designating as terrorists Mr. Arbabsiar, Mr. Shakuri and three other Iranians believed involved in the plot — Qods Force commander Qasem Soleimani and Qods Force officials Hamed Abdollahi and Abdul Reza Shahlai.

The Qods Force is part of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps and has been designated by U.S. officials as a terrorist organization because of its role in aiding attacks on allied forces in Iraq.

According to the indictment, the conspiracy began in the spring, when Mr. Arbabsiar was approached in Tehran by his cousin, a high-ranking official in the Qods Force identified by the Treasury Department as Mr. Shalai.

The indictment says the cousin asked Mr. Arbabsiar to try to recruit a Mexican drug-trafficking organization to help kidnap Adel al-Jubeir, the Saudi ambassador in Washington.

Mr. Arbabsiar was in touch with someone he believed to be a representative of a Mexican drug cartel, but was in fact a drug trafficker and a paid informant for the Drug Enforcement Administration, the indictment says.

In recorded meeting and telephone conversations, Mr. Arbabsiar agreed to facilitate a $1.5 million payment from Iran to kill Mr. al-Jubeir by bombing a restaurant. A down payment of $100,000 was transferred to a special undercover FBI account.

Warned by the trafficker that as many as 100 people, including U.S. senators, would be in the restaurant and might be killed, Mr. Arbabsiar replied it was “no big deal.”

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