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Iran intelligence chief rejects D.C. terror plot allegations

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TEHRAN, Iran (AP) - Iran's intelligence chief said Thursday there are holes in the U.S. allegations that Iranian agents plotted to kill the Saudi ambassador to the United States, and dismissed the American claims as a "foolish plot" nobody will believe.

Two men, including an alleged member of Iran's special foreign actions unit known as the Quds Force, have been charged in New York federal court with conspiring to kill the Saudi diplomat, Adel Al-Jubeir.

Tehran has strongly denied any link to the alleged plot, and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has accused Washington of using the case to divert attention from its economic woes and the Occupy Wall Street protest movement.

On Thursday, Iran's intelligence minister, Heidar Moslehi, dismissed the American allegations, saying no professional intelligence agency would issue orders to an agent in a foreign country over the phone or transfer money to drug cartels through a New York bank.

"When you probe the allegations from an intelligence perspective, you find major contradictions and shortcomings and you can't believe a government like the U.S. ... has ended up in a situation where it designs a foolish plot," he said on state TV.

The Iranian government has denied any connection to Manssor Arbabsiar, the man arrested in the alleged plot, and derided the claims, saying U.S. officials have offered no proof.

"Which court of law can accept such absurd claims as evidence?" Moslehi asked.

Arbabsiar is a 56-year-old naturalized U.S. citizen who also had an Iranian passport. In May 2011, the criminal complaint says, he approached someone he believed to be a member of the vicious Mexican narco-terror group, Los Zetas, for help with an attack on Al-Jubeir. The man he approached turned out to be an informant for U.S. drug agents, it says.

The U.S. government charges that Arbabsiar had been told by his cousin Abdul Reza Shahlai, a high-ranking member of the Quds Force, to recruit a drug trafficker because drug gangs have a reputation for assassinations.

Moslehi said Arbabsiar, based on the U.S. judge's bill, made a telephone call to the alleged Quds force member from an FBI office after his arrest and the Americans' claim they eavesdropped the conversation.

"What intelligence agency or officer will direct an agent stationed in a rival's territory by telephone? Or orders an assassination on the phone? Or assigns the restaurant - the venue of the planned assassination - and bargains over the price on the phone?" he asked.

Moslehi said even the weakest intelligence agencies in the world wouldn't hire a man with Arbabsiar background let alone assign him to an operation on U.S. soil.

The intelligence minister alleged instead that Arbabsiar, who acquired U.S. citizenship eight months ago, likely agreed to cooperate with American intelligence agencies in return for his residency permit.

Moslehi said Iran doesn't need to resort to such terror plots and that Tehran would not benefit from killing a Saudi diplomat.

Moslehi claimed that Iran's security services have notched successes in an ongoing intelligence battle with the U.S., and said Washington now wants to tarnish Iran's image by attributing a "clumsy" plot to Tehran.

He cited Iran's success in the arrest last year of Abdulmalik Rigi, leader of the Sunni militant group Jundallah. Jundallah, which has claimed responsibility for bombings that have killed dozens in recent years, was behind an insurgency in Iran's southeast near the border with Pakistan.

Rigi was arrested alive by Iran's intelligence agents when he was flying over the Persian Gulf en route from Dubai to Kyrgyzstan. He was later tried and executed.

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