US-Iranian Relations Strained by Alleged Assassination Plot
WASHINGTON — The Justice Department charged an Iranian citizen Wednesday with trying to murder former National Security Advisor John Bolton in a dispute once again inflaming tensions between the United States and Iran.
The murder-for-hire plot was retaliation for the 2020 U.S. assassination of Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Commander Qasem Soleimani, according to the Justice Department.
The suspect, Shahram Poursafi, tried to pay an American citizen $300,000 to murder Bolton at his home or office in the Washington, D.C., area, says a criminal complaint filed in federal court.
Poursafi, 45, is a member of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the Justice Department reported. Although he has not been arrested, he is charged with use of interstate commerce facilities in the commission of murder for hire and providing and attempting to provide material support to a transnational murder plot.
The Iranian government is denying any association with a murder plot, calling the allegations “baseless.”
A statement from the Foreign Ministry said, “[The] Islamic Republic of Iran strongly warns against any action against Iranian citizens under the pretext of these ridiculous accusations and emphasizes that it reserves the right to take any action within the framework of international law to defend the rights” of its government and citizens.
Bolton was the Trump administration’s national security advisor when Soleimani was assassinated in a drone strike after intelligence agencies uncovered evidence the Iranian military leader was plotting a major terrorist attack against the United States.
Other top U.S. security personnel were reportedly on the Iranians’ hit list. They included former Trump administration Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
On Thursday, Bolton called the murder plot “a real window into what that government in Tehran is like.”
“It is not just a window into how they behave with their terrorist activities and sponsorship of terrorist groups, but how they conduct their foreign policy altogether,” Bolton said in an interview with CNN. “This is not a regime that can be trusted to meet its commitments or obligations. It is a regime that sees the United States as an enemy and acts that way.”
He also said Iran’s threats against the United States are likely to extend beyond a few government officials.
“This is a case of Iran not simply carrying out terrorist attacks against American service members or diplomats in Iraq, of which they have done an awful lot over the years, but trying to kill Americans on American soil,” Bolton said.
The indictment filed by the Justice Department says that on Oct. 22, 2021, Poursafi asked a U.S. citizen identified only as “Individual A” to take photographs of Bolton, saying he wanted them for a book he was writing. Poursafi met Individual A online.
Individual A instead referred Poursafi to a second person who would take the photos for $5,000 to $10,000. The court documents call the second person “confidential human source” or “CHS.”
The CHS was an FBI informant.
On Nov. 9, 2021, Poursafi allegedly contacted the informant through a series of encrypted messaging applications. He offered $250,000 to “eliminate” Bolton. Further negotiations raised the price to $300,000.
Poursafi also reportedly said he had another “job” for which he would pay $1 million. The second job apparently referred to killing Pompeo, according to U.S. intelligence sources.
Poursafi instructed the informant on opening a cryptocurrency account that could be used to make the payments while concealing the source of funds.
He told the informant he must murder Bolton before he could get paid. He explained that if he paid the $300,000 but the killing was not completed, his “group” would be angry.
The informant referred to Poursafi being associated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard. Poursafi did not deny it.
Afterward, Poursafi and the informant tracked down Bolton’s work and home addresses. One screenshot he sent the informant showed a street view of Bolton’s office. He also asked for video confirmation after the planned assassination that Bolton was dead.
Some of Poursafi’s information about Bolton could not have come from publicly available information, according to the FBI.
In other messages, Poursafi’s messages showed he was urging the informant to hurry with the assassination, preferably “by the anniversary of Qasem Soleimani’s death,” according to the Justice Department. He reportedly suggested using a “larger weapon” that would allow the informant to keep his distance when he killed Bolton.
“On Dec. 22, 2021, Poursafi sent the informant a photograph of two plastic bags, each of which appeared to contain bound stacks of U.S. currency and a handwritten note beneath them that said, ‘[CHS’ name] 22.12.2021,’” the Justice Department reported.
Their messaging continued until the end of April. About the same time, federal prosecutors prepared the criminal complaint that was filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
Justice Department officials pledged diligence in trying to stop attacks on U.S. officials and citizens.
“Iran and other hostile governments should understand that the U.S. Attorney’s Office and our law enforcement partners will do everything in our power to thwart their violent plots and bring those responsible to justice,” U.S. Attorney Matthew M. Graves for the District of Columbia said in a statement.
The Secret Service has beefed up security for Bolton, Pompeo and other officials who might be targeted by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard.