Published October 12, 2011
The State Department has issued a global travel alert warning Americans of "anti-U.S. actions" in the wake of an alleged Iranian plot to kill the Saudi ambassador to Washington, as U.S. officials raise alarm that Tehran may be going to new lengths to target the United States.
The plot, the State Department warned, could signal a "more aggressive focus by the Iranian government on terrorist activity against diplomats from certain countries, to include possible attacks in the United States."
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told Fox News the country needs to wake up to Iran's "plotting."
"These guys are coming to get us," Ros-Lehtinen said.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Tuesday that the plot "crosses a line."
The public anxiety over Iran's role and Iran's intentions was soon questioned by some observers.
Two former senior intelligence officials said that something about the plot doesn't sit right, and that it seems to go against Iran's pattern. One questioned why the Iranians would have allegedly tried to work through a Mexican drug cartel, rather than Hezbollah, the U.S.-designated terror group closely tied to the Iranian regime.
An assessment from Stratfor Global Intelligence cautioned against claims of high-up Iranian involvement, suggesting the Tehran links were "exaggerated" and based only on the confession of the suspect who was arrested.
Iran denied the charges. In a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Iranian government spokesman Alireza Miryousefi described the claims as "fabricated and baseless."
The announcement by Attorney General Eric Holder also comes in the middle of the wide-ranging congressional probe over Operation Fast and Furious, the gunrunning operation from a Justice Department agency that allowed hundreds of guns to drift across the U.S.-Mexico border. Holder, asked about a new subpoena in the case at the end of his press conference Tuesday, noted that while the case develops his staff is focused on important matters like the disrupted assassination plot.
But prominent Republicans dismissed any skepticism about the timing or nature of the announcement. Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said the timing revolved around the case itself.
While President Obama was apparently briefed on the investigation in June, the suspect in custody, Manssor Arbabsiar, wasn't arrested until Sept. 29 during a layover at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York following his being denied entry into Mexico.
Rogers told Fox News the case ran on a "judicial clock," not a political one, and that the administration could not pick and choose when it unfolded.
Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich also said there was little political advantage to the administration coming forward with the Iran plot in the first place. He argued that it "blows up" the administration's strategy of trying to reason with Iran's leaders.
"I think this is a very embarrassing and difficult moment for the administration," Gingrich said.
Some lawmakers, including Ros-Lehtinen, are calling for fresh sanctions in the wake of the foiled plot.
Vice President Biden, in an interview Wednesday on CBS' "Early Show," said the consequences for Iran will be "serious." He called the plot "an outrageous effort," without speculating on how deep into the Iranian government the plot went.
The Treasury Department fired the first diplomatic shot Tuesday afternoon, imposing sanctions on five people allegedly linked to the plot, including four members of the Quds Force -- which is part of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
Two of the people, Arbabsiar, a used car salesman who reportedly lives in Corpus Christie, Texas, and Gholam Shakuri, were charged Tuesday in New York federal court, though Shakuri remains at large. The Treasury Department said the other Quds officials named were also involved in the plot. The sanctions will freeze any U.S. assets held by the individuals and prohibit anyone in the U.S. from doing business with them.
U.S. officials say the suspects in the case were working on a "murder for hire" scheme to kill the Saudi ambassador to the United States using explosives. They allegedly reached out to a U.S. source in Mexico posing as a drug cartel representative. Arbabsiar allegedly tried to hire the source and his accomplices to carry out the attack.
Arbabsiar, who was arrested by federal agents on Sept. 29, later confessed to his involvement and said senior Quds officials were directing the plot, according to the Justice Department.
Amid standing questions about the plot, members of Congress are scheduled for a classified briefing from administration officials on Wednesday.