WASHINGTON - A member of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps was charged in a murder-for-hire plot targeting former 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 U.S. drone strike that killed Iran commander Qasem Soleimani in 2020 in Baghdad.
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Poursafi, according to federal prosecutors, attempted to pay a U.S. contact $300,000 to carry out the plot, not knowing that the unidentified person was an informant for U.S. authorities.
"The Justice Department has the solemn duty to defend our citizens from hostile governments who seek to hurt or kill them," said Assistant Attorney General Matthew Olsen, chief of the department's National Security Division. "This is not the first time we have uncovered Iranian plots to exact revenge against individuals on U.S. soil, and we will work tirelessly to expose and disrupt every one of these efforts."
Bolton thanked officials, including the FBI for unearthing the threat and tracking the plot to the Iranian operative, and the Secret Service for assuring his protection.
"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 alleged that in October 2021, Poursafi contacted a person online, seeking someone to take photographs of Bolton for a supposed book project.
The U.S. contact, identified in court documents as "Individual A," connected Poursafi with an associate who served as a confidential source for U.S. authorities.
Beginning in early November 2021 and continuing through April 2022, according to prosecutors, Poursafi discussed the plot with the source, offering $250,000 to "eliminate" the former national security official - an amount "negotiated up" to $300,000.
Poursafi allegedly related that he had another "job" for the source that would pay $1 million.
According to court documents, the source asked Poursafi's help locating Bolton, and the Iranian operative provided Bolton's work address in Washington.
A search of Poursafi's online accounts revealed "screenshots of a map application showing a street view of the former national security advisor's office," according to court documents. Attached to a screenshot was a note 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 Christmas, Poursafi allegedly sent the source a photograph showing two plastic bags containing stacks of U.S. currency, along with a handwritten note bearing the source's name and the date "22.12.2021."
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)."
President Joe Biden's national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, warned Iran against any further action.
"Should Iran attack any of our citizens, to include those who continue to serve the United States or those who formerly served, Iran will face severe consequences," Sullivan said. " We will continue to bring to bear the full resources of the U.S. government to protect Americans."
U.S. authorities have warned for more than a decade that Iran, especially the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, has been sending operatives into the USA to plot terror attacks, killings and assassinations.
The United States 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. This year, Biden decided to keep the IRGC on the terrorist blacklist despite pressure from some lawmakers, who said it 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 United States. The criminal complaint, filed in the Southern District of New York, charged Manssor Arbabsiar, 56, a naturalized U.S. citizen holding Iranian and U.S. passports, and Gholam Shakuri, an Iran-based member of the Quds Force, a special operations unit of the IRGC that U.S. counterterrorism officials say sponsors and promotes terrorist activities abroad.
Federal authorities disrupted the plot 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, U.S. authorities arrested Lebanese-French citizen Iman Kobeissi in Atlanta for allegedly arranging for the sale of thousands of firearms, including military 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 U.S. soil on behalf of Hezbollah and its military wing, the Islamic Jihad Organization. When Kourani was convicted in May 2019, U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman said his "chilling mission was to help procure weapons and gather intelligence about potential targets in the U.S. for future Hezballah terrorist attacks."
Some of the targets Kourani surveilled included JFK airport and law enforcement facilities in New York City, including the federal building at 26 Federal Plaza in Manhattan, said Berman of the Southern District of New York. "Today, Kourani has fittingly been convicted for his crimes in a courthouse that stands in the shadow of one of his potential targets," Berman said.
Last month, an alleged operative was arrested with a loaded AK-47 and accused of stalking Brooklyn-based journalist and Iranian dissident Masih Alinejad. A year earlier, four members of an alleged Iranian spy network were charged with plotting to kidnap Alinejad.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Iranian national charged in plot to kill John Bolton