Alleged Iranian terror plot has 'B-movie' quality
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Mansour J. Arbabsiar was taken into custody at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, late last month. The other suspect, Gholam Shakuri, remains at large.
David Sanger, chief Washington correspondent for The New York Times, said it's worth noting that the Saudi ambassador in Washington is one of the highest ranking positions in Saudi Arabia, because of the close relationship between the two nations.
"It only goes to someone who is trusted with the family business," Sanger said.
The plot itself sounds a little bit like a B-movie clumsy: Arbabsiar , an Iranian-American, traveled from his home in Texas to Mexico to try to hire a Mexican drug cartel hitman. But the person he chose was someone who'd been previously arrested in the United States and ended up working for the Drug Enforcement Agency.
"So it was a really bad choice of a hitman," Sanger said.
In transcripts of that conversation that have been made available, Sanger said, Arbabsiar tells the supposed hitman that his cousin is a high ranking official in the Quds force, the element of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard that handles operations outside of Iran. But Sanger cautions that's a bit hard to believe
The idea of a rogue operation in the Quds force "is a little bit hard for us to bend our heads around," Sanger said.
He said Quds is a highly organized force that's known for it's discipline. But he also said there's a real possibility that there are rival factions at work here.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his allies had been thought to be working toward a thaw in relations with America — for example by releasing hikers last month — however the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, may be less interested in improved relations with the west. The Quds force is typically more closely aligned with Khomeni.
The Iranian government continues to deny any involvement in the plot, but the United States has vowed to hold the country accountable. Sanger, however, says there's not many tools left to use against Iran. So far, the most visible have been financial sanctions levied against key players in the incident.
"It's hard for me to imagine that there are many sanctions we haven't already done," Sanger said. "There's only one sanction that would catch the Iranians, and that's one the West has never been willing to go along with, and that's to cut off oil exports from the country."
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