Iranian military member charged with plotting to assassinate former national security adviser John Bolton


Washington— A member of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) has been charged with plotting the murder of former national security adviser John Bolton, the Justice Ministry announced on Wednesday.

A charge against Shahram Poursafi, of Tehran, alleges that from October 2021 he tried to organize the murder of Bolton, probably in retaliation for the murder of Qassem Soleimanithe leader of the IRGC’s elite Al-Quds Force who was killed by a US airstrike in Iraq in January 2020.

Working on behalf of the Quds Force, Poursafi attempted to pay people in the United States $300,000 for the murder, the Justice Department said. The department said there was no evidence that Poursafi had ever been to the United States. He is still at large overseas and is wanted by the FBI.

Iran has denied any involvement in the alleged plot, with a spokesman for the country’s foreign ministry saying the ‘baseless allegations’ were ‘made with political aims and motivations’, according to a machine translation of a statement published by the state-run Fars news agency.

Bolton, who served as national security adviser to former President Donald Trump, thanked the Justice Department for the charges against Poursafi and the FBI for “its diligence in uncovering and tracking the Iranian regime’s criminal threat to US citizens; and the secret services to once again provide protection against Tehran’s efforts. »

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Former National Security Advisor John Bolton speaks on stage during a town hall meeting at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina on February 17, 2020.

LOGAN CYRUS/AFP via Getty Images


“While not much can be said publicly at this time, one point is indisputable: Iran’s leaders are liars, terrorists and enemies of the United States,” he said in a statement to CBS News. “Their radical, anti-American goals are unchanged; their commitments are worthless; and their global threat is growing.”

Assistant Attorney General Matthew Olsen, who heads the Justice Department’s national security division, said the department had in the past uncovered Iranian plots to “exactly avenge individuals on American soil” and vowed that the Justice Department is reportedly “working tirelessly” to stop these efforts.

“The Department of Justice has a solemn duty to defend our citizens against hostile governments that seek to hurt or kill them,” he said in a statement.

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan has warned Iran against targeting American citizens, including those who currently work in government or no longer do so.

“We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: The Biden administration will not back down from protecting and defending all Americans against threats of violence and terrorism,” he said in a statement. “If Iran attacks any of our citizens, including those who continue to serve the United States or those who have served previously, Iran will face serious consequences. We will continue to mobilize all government resources American to protect Americans.”

In an affidavit filed in federal district court in Washington, the Justice Department laid out the timeline of the conspiracy targeting Bolton, beginning with Soleimani’s death in January 2020 and statements by Iranian leaders vowing revenge against Trump and others senior administrative officials.

In 2021, federal prosecutors said Poursafi met an unidentified person on a social networking site and asked the individual to take photos of Bolton in October, claiming it was a book that ‘he wrote. The person told Poursafi he could introduce him to an “associate”, identified as a confidential human source, to take the requested photos and videos for between $5,000 and $10,000, according to court documents.

After Poursafi was introduced to the source, the Iranian agent asked the confidential source via an encrypted messaging app to hire someone for $200,000 to “take out” an unidentified person. He also mentioned another job for $1 million, the Justice Department said. Poursafi then offered $250,000 for killing “someone” – $50,000 to the confidential source for organizing the killing and $200,000 to the person who carried out the attack, according to court records.

Poursafi eventually revealed Bolton was his target during talks in November 2021 and suggested to the confidential source that he be killed “in a car” as Bolton was walking alone in a park, prosecutors said.

In mid-November 2021, the source told Poursafi that he spoke to an individual about carrying out the attack on Bolton, but the alleged attacker was unhappy with the dollar amount. The confidential source also asked Poursafi for help in locating and targeting Bolton, according to court records, and after noting that his address could be found online, Poursafi eventually provided the address of Bolton’s office in Washington. .

The confidential source and Poursafi spoke around November 19, 2021, and the source said the person hired to carry out the murder opened a cryptocurrency account and demanded $300,000 in exchange for the murder, according to the Justice Department. . The higher amount was later approved after Poursafi spoke with “them”, believed to be the IRGC, about the counter-offer, according to court records.

On November 23, 2021, the source told Poursafi that he traveled to Washington from Texas and went to Bolton’s office, and sent the Iranian agent two surveillance photos. After describing the building and structure of the parking lot, Poursafi suggested that the parking lot would be a good place to kill Bolton, and said the murder would be easy and not take long, according to the documents.

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An FBI wanted poster showing photos of Shahram Poursafi.

FBI


The FBI executed a search warrant for Poursafi’s online accounts and found screenshots of Poursafi’s confidential source photos, as well as screenshots of online maps showing a street view of the Bolton office building. A noted building was “10,162 km away,” roughly the distance between Washington and Tehran, the Justice Department said.

Poursafi and the confidential source had further conversations in early December 2021, during which Poursafi deferred to the source about how to kill Bolton, prosecutors alleged. Asked what would happen if the murder was blamed on Iran, Poursafi told the source not to worry and that his “group” would deal with it, according to court documents. He also asked the source to discuss the attack in terms of construction and construction, and he wanted the murder completed by the end of 2021, prosecutors said.

In late December 2021, after the source announced they would be returning to Texas from Washington, Poursafi sent a photo of two plastic bags that appeared to be filled with cash.

Discussions between Poursafi and the confidential source continued throughout January and in early February Poursafi warned that if the job was not completed within two weeks it would be handed over to another striker. The following month, the Iranian told the source of another assassination job in the United States and said to keep Bolton “in the back of your mind,” the Justice Department said.

Until April, Poursafi continued to encourage the confidential source to complete the second attack and warned that if the source did not do so, his “group had others ready to complete the operation”, according to the documents. judicial.

The FBI identified Poursafi as a member of the IRGC in part through photos and determined that he was working on the group’s behalf to hire US-based people to kill Bolton.

He is accused of using interstate commercial facilities in the commission of murder-for-hire and of providing and attempting to provide material support to a transnational murder conspiracy. If convicted, Poursafi faces up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 for the first offense, and up to 15 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. dollars for the second.

The American Intelligence Community assessed earlier this year that Iran would threaten Americans, directly and through proxy attacks. CBS News also obtained two Persistent Threat Assessments delivered to Congress in January 2022 that cite a “serious and credible threat” to former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and former Trump administration envoy Brian Hook.

The assessments, which are not public, show that in 2021 and 2022, the State Department determined the need for 24-hour diplomatic security for Pompeo and Hook.

Catherine Herridge contributed to this report.

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