Accusations that Iranian citizens allegedly planned a terrorist plot in the U.S. and engaged people they believed were Mexican cartel operatives to help carry out the attack brought swift reactions from Texas lawmakers.
A criminal complaint unsealed in the Southern District of New York alleges that Gholam Shakuri, apparently still at large, and Manssor Arbabsiar, a naturalized U.S. citizen and Corpus Christi resident, plotted to kill Saudi Arabia’s Ambassador to the United States, Adel A. Al-Jubeir. Arbabsiar, who was arrested last month, allegedly entered into a $1.5 million contract with someone he thought belonged to a Mexican drug cartel to carry out the assassination. Subsequent attacks on the Israeli and Saudi embassies were also plotted, according to the complaint. But his contact was actually a confidential informant working for the U.S. government.
U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin, released a statement shortly after the news broke, saying the actions constitute an act of war against the U.S., Saudi Arabia and Israel. It also indicates Mexicans are being courted by extremists, he said.
“The actions by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, in a plot 'conceived, sponsored, and directed from Iran,' indicates to me this was condoned by the Iranian government,” said McCaul, the chairman of the Homeland Security Oversight & Investigations Subcommittee. “The fact that elements of the Iranian government targeted a Mexican drug cartel to carry out a high-level assassination is further evidence that the cartels are perceived as terrorists willing to participate in a lucrative, violent scheme inside the United States.”
He added that despite the fact that they did not engage in the plot, “this event underscores the value that international terrorists place on the cartels, their access to weapons and their ease of illegal movement across our Southwest border that is far from secure."
McCaul wants Congress to designate seven drug cartels as Foreign Terrorist Organizations. That would permit the government to freeze funds tied to the organizations and to penalize persons found guilty of aiding the cartels with 15 additional years of prison time.
U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, says he’d like to see more information about the alleged plot come to light, but said early indications are that the Mexicans helped U.S. intelligence foil the plot.
“If anything, the Mexicans were trying to help us. My understanding is that he was an informant and not a drug dealer,” he said. “We don’t know all the facts but this is one of the reasons we ought to do more in helping Mexico fight the drug cartels — because of any of the possibilities that we are seeing here. I think this should reinforce our effort as a partner of Mexico.”
Upon trying to meet with the confidential source late last month in Mexico City to finalize plans, Arbabsiar was denied entry into the country and subsequently arrested after returning to New York. CNN reported today Arbabsiar was deliberately turned away as part of ongoing investigation.
“In strict compliance with domestic and international law, Mexico was able to neutralize a significant risk to Mexico’s national security, while at the same time reinforcing bilateral and reciprocal cooperation with the United States," the Mexican foreign ministry said, according to the news outlet.
The complaint does not specifically name which cartel Arbabsiar thought he was dealing with, though ABC News reported the alleged terrorist purportedly thought he was meeting with a member of Los Zetas. That gang is one of the most violent and currently has control — or is at war with rivals for control — of lucrative drug-trade routes that extend through the Mexican states of Tamaulipas, Coahuila and Nuevo Leon, all of which border Texas.
Stratfor, which reports on global intelligence issues, wrote that its analysts doubt a Mexican cartel was directly involved.
“It seems unusual that the Iranians would approach a Mexican cartel to carry out the assassination, when the Iranians probably have the capability themselves. However, it could be that Arbabsiar and Shakuri were acting on their own, or that something unusual is going on within the Iranian government,” that report states. “Regardless, because Arbabsiar’s contact in Mexico was a DEA undercover source posing as a member of a Mexican cartel, this means at this point the cartels have not been directly linked to the plot.”
The confidential Mexican source previously faced state charges related to narcotics trafficking but agreed to cooperate with law enforcement to have the charges dropped, according to the criminal complaint. The source has previously “provided reliable and independently corroborated information to federal law enforcement agents” that has led to numerous seizures of narcotics.