WASHINGTON — A member of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps has been indicted in a murder-for-hire plot targeting former Trump national security adviser John Bolton, Justice Department officials said Wednesday. .
The federal charges were dropped against Shahram Poursafi, who allegedly sought to stage Bolton’s assassination in retaliation for the 2020 US drone strike that killed Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani in Baghdad, Iraq.
According to federal prosecutors, Poursafi attempted to pay a US contact $300,000 to carry out the plot, unaware that the unidentified person was serving as an informant to US authorities. .
“The Department of Justice has a solemn duty to defend our citizens against hostile governments that seek to harm or kill them,” said Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen, chief of the National Security Division of the justice. “This is not the first time we have uncovered Iranian plots to exact revenge on individuals on American soil and we will work tirelessly to expose and disrupt each such effort.”
Bolton thanked justice officials, including the FBI, for uncovering the threat and tracking the plot to the Iranian agent, and the Secret Service for providing his protection while the plot unfolded. .
“While not much can be said publicly at this time, one point is indisputable: Iran’s leaders are liars, terrorists and enemies of the United States,” Bolton said in a statement. “Their radical, anti-American goals are unchanged; their commitments are worthless; and their global threat is growing.”
Prosecutors allege the conspiracy emerged in October 2021, when Poursafi contacted an American person the agent had met online, looking for someone to take photos of Bolton for a supposed book project.
The American contact, identified in court documents as “Individual A”, then put Poursafi in touch with an associate who served as a confidential source for American authorities.
Beginning in early November 2021 and continuing through April 2022, prosecutors allege Poursafi engaged the source in conspiracy discussions, first offering $250,000 to “eliminate” the former national security official – a amount that would then be “negotiated” up to $300,000.
Poursafi also allegedly said he had another “job” for the source that would pay $1 million.
Later that month, according to court documents, the source requested Poursafi’s assistance in locating Bolton and the Iranian agent allegedly provided the source with Bolton’s business address in Washington, DC.
A search of Poursafi’s online accounts then revealed “screenshots from a mapping application showing a street view of the former national security adviser’s office”. Attached to the screenshot was a note indicating that Poursafi was communicating from Tehran, Iran.
“Poursafi told (the source) it didn’t matter how the murder was committed, but that his ‘group’ would demand video confirmation of the target’s death,” prosecutors said.
Discussions continued for weeks, as Poursafi reportedly pressed the source on the timing of the attack.
Three days before Christmas, Poursafi allegedly sent the source a photograph showing two plastic bags containing stacks of US currency along with a handwritten note bearing the source’s name and the date “22.12.2021”.
At one point, Poursafi reportedly noted that he was being pressured to carry out the attack, expressing concern that “if not done quickly, the job would be taken away from (Poursafi) and (the source)”.
US authorities have warned for more than a decade that Iran, and in particular the Islamic Revolutionary Guards, send agents to the United States to plan terrorist attacks, killings and assassinations.
In response, the United States placed the IRGC on its list of “foreign terrorist organizations” in 2019, part of a “maximum pressure” campaign led by then-President Donald Trump against the Iran. Earlier this year, President Joe Biden finalized his decision to keep the IRGC on the terrorist blacklist despite pressure from some lawmakers, who said it further complicated international efforts to reinstate the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.
In October 2011, the Justice Department indicted two men in an alleged plot to assassinate Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United States. The criminal complaint, filed in the Southern District of New York, charged Manssor Arbabsiar, a 56-year-old naturalized US citizen holding both Iranian and US passports, and Gholam Shakuri, an Iran-based member of Iran’s Quds Force, a unit IRGC special operations unit, which US counterterrorism officials say sponsors and encourages terrorist activities overseas.
The plot was disrupted by federal authorities before it could become operational.
Two years later, Arbabsiar was sentenced to 25 years in federal prison for conspiring with Iranian military officials to assassinate the Saudi ambassador.
In October 2015, US authorities arrested Franco-Lebanese citizen Iman Kobeissi in Atlanta for allegedly arranging the sale of thousands of firearms, including military assault rifles, machine guns and sniper rifles, to criminal groups in Iran and Lebanon, including Hezbollah, a designated terrorist organization that often serves as a proxy fighting force for the IRGC.
In 2017, the FBI arrested two men from New York and Michigan, Ali Kourani and Samer El Debek, accused of carrying out terrorist activities on American soil on behalf of Hezbollah and its armed wing, the Jihad Organization. Islamic. When Kourani was sentenced in May 2019, New York’s chief prosecutor said his “chilling mission was to help procure weapons and gather intelligence on potential targets in the United States for future terrorist attacks. of Hezbollah”.
Some of the targets monitored by Kourani included JFK airport and law enforcement facilities in New York, including the Federal Building at 26 Federal Plaza in Manhattan, U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said at the time. of the Southern District of New York. “Today Kourani was rightly sentenced for his crimes in a courthouse that stands in the shadow of one of his potential targets,” Berman said.
And last month, a suspected agent was arrested with a loaded AK-47, stalking Brooklyn-based Iranian journalist and dissident Masih Alinejad. A year earlier, four members of an alleged Iranian spy ring had been charged with plotting Alinejad’s kidnapping.