WASHINGTON – A member of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps was charged in a murder-for-hire plot targeting former Trump national security adviser John Bolton, Justice Department officials said Wednesday.
Federal charges were unsealed against Shahram Poursafi, who allegedly sought to arrange Bolton’s assassination in retaliation for the 2020 US drone strike that killed Iran commander Qasem Soleimani in Baghdad, Iraq.
Poursafi, according to federal prosecutors, attempted to pay a US contact $300,000 to carry out the plot, not knowing that the unidentified person served as an informant for US authorities. .
“The Justice Department has the solemn duty to defend our citizens from hostile governments who seek to hurt or kill them,” Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen, chief of Justice’s National Security Division, said. “This is not the first time we have uncovered Iranian plots to exact revenge against individuals on US soil and we will work tirelessly to expose and disrupt every one of these efforts.”
Bolton thanked Justice officials, including the FBI, for unearthing the threat and tracking the plot to the Iranian operative, and the Secret Service for assuring his protection as the plot unfolded. .
“While much cannot be said publicly right now, one point is indisputable: Iran’s rulers are liars, terrorists, and enemies of the United States,” Bolton said in a statement. “Their radical, anti-American objectives are unchanged; their commitments are worthless; and their global threat is growing.”
Prosecutors allege that the plot emerged in October 2021, when Poursafi contacted a US person the operative had met online, seeking someone to take photographs of Bolton for a supposed book project.
The US contact, identified in court documents as “Individual A”, then connected Poursafi with an associate who served as a confidential source for US authorities.
Beginning in early November 2021 and continuing through April 2022, prosecutors allege that Poursafi engaged the source in discussions about the plot, first offering $250,000 to “eliminate” the former national security official – an amount that would later be “negotiated up” to $300,000.
Poursafi also allegedly related that he had another “job” for the source that would pay $1 million.
Later that month, according to court documents, the source asked Poursafi’s help locating Bolton and the Iranian operative allegedly provided the source with Bolton’s Washington, DC, work address.
A search of Poursafi’s online accounts subsequently revealed “screenshots of a map application showing a street view of the former national security advisor’s office.” Attached to the screenshot was notation indicating that Poursafi was communicating from Tehran, Iran.
“Poursafi told the (source) that it did not matter how the murder was carried out, but his ‘group’ would require video confirmation of the target’s death,” prosecutors said.
Discussions continued for weeks, as Poursafi allegedly pressed the source on the timing for the attack.
Three days before Christimas, 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 allegedly noted that he was being pressed to carry out the attack, expressing concern that “if it was not carried out soon, the job would be taken from (Poursafi) and the (source).”
US authorities have warned for more than a decade that Iran, and especially the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Crops, have been sending operatives into the US to plot terror attacks, killings and assassinations.
In response, the US placed the IRGC on its “Foreign Terrorist Organizations” list in 2019, as part of a “maximum pressure” campaign by then-President Donald Trump against 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 restore the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.
In October 2011, the Justice Department charged two men in an alleged plot to assassinate Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the US 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 special operations unit of the IRGC that US counterterrorism officials say sponsors and promotes terrorist activities abroad..
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 Lebanese-French citizen Iman Kobeissi in Atlanta for allegedly arranging for 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, on charges of engaging in terrorist activities on US soil on behalf of Hezbollah and its military wing, the Islamic Jihad Organization. When Kourani was convicted in May 2019, the top prosecutor in New York said his “chilling mission was to help procure weapons and gather intelligence about potential targets in the US for future Hizballah terrorist attacks.”
Some of the targets Kourani surveyed included JFK airport and law enforcement facilities in New York City, including the federal building at 26 Federal Plaza in Manhattan, Geoffrey S. Berman, the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, said at the time. “Today, Kourani has fittingly been convicted of his crimes in a courthouse that stands in the shadow of one of his potential targets,” Berman said.
And last month, an alleged operative was arrested with a loaded AK-47, stalking Brooklyn-based journalist and Iranian dissident Masih Alinejad. A year earlier, four members of an alleged Iranian spy network were charged with plotting the kidnap of Alinejad.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism