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THE SITUATION ROOM
Iran Possibly Behind Assassination Attempt on Saudi Arabian Ambassador to U.S.; Iran Terror Plot Suspect in Court
Aired October 11, 2011 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, HOST: To our viewers, You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, the breaking news we're following. U.S. officials are vowing to hold Iran accountable for an alleged terror plot on American soil. The attorney general of the United States says agents foiled the scheme to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States. He said the plot was directed by elements -- elements inside the Iranian government.
We're getting our first look at one of the suspects in the alleged plot. He's a naturalized United States citizen who appeared in a New York City courtroom just a little while ago. The other suspect is a member of Iran's Revolutionary Guard.
And a spokesman for Iran's president is dismissing the U.S. allegations as a fabrication designed to distract the American people from problems at home.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world.
I'm Wolf Blitzer.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: A little while ago, the FBI director, Robert Mueller, announced what was going on during a briefing on this alleged terror plot.
Let's listen to see what the FBI director had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERT MUELLER, FBI DIRECTOR: This case illustrates that we live in a world where borders and boundaries are increasingly irrelevant, a world where individuals from one country sought to conspire with a drug trafficking cartel in another country to assassinate a foreign official on United States soil. And though it reads like the pages of a Hollywood script, the impact would have been very real and many lives would have been lost.
These individuals had no regard for their intended victim, no regard for innocent citizens who might have been hurt or killed in this attempted assassination. They had no regard for the rule of law.
And with these charges, we bring the full weight of that law to bear on those responsible. And we send the clear message that any attempts on American soil will not be tolerated.
This was not a typical case for any of us, given the gobal -- the global ties we unraveled and the scope of the plot itself, but it represents the full range of threats we face and it illustrates the need for continued collaboration -- collaboration between agencies, departments, collaboration between countries. We have said it many times before, but it does bear repeating. It is only working side by side that we are able to stop plots like this before they can take hold.
We will continue to work together to find and stop those who seek to do us harm, whether they attempt to strike overseas or here at home, whether it is a conspiracy to kill a foreign official on U.S. Soil, a terrorist attack on United States citizens or street crime in our communities.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Robert Mueller, the FBI director, speaking here in Washington, announcing these allegations against the Iranian government, this alleged plot to go ahead and try to assassinate Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States, Adel al-Jubeir.
The suspect in this case was just in a courtroom a little while ago.
Our national correspondent, Jason Carroll, is outside the courthouse in New York.
Tell us what was going on inside -- Jason, for those viewers here in the United States and around the world who are just tuning in.
JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it was interesting, Wolf. I sat just a few feet away from Arbabsiar during the federal proceeding. Basically, he walked in and spoke with his attorney for just a few moments before the proceeding got underway. He was wearing blue jeans, a blue plaid shirt, brown shoes. He seemed somewhat relaxed during the proceeding, which lasted just about 10 minutes or so, less than 10 minutes.
This is a proceeding that's basically procedural, I guess that's the best way to describe it. Arbabsiar was not required to enter a plea during the proceeding and he did not. The judge, however, in this particular case, overseeing the proceeding, U.S. magistrate, Michael Dolinger, did advise Arbabsiar of his rights.
For example, the right to remain silent -- he wanted to make sure that Arbabsiar understood that. Also, making sure that he understood that whatever statements he made could be used against him.
The defense also indicating that they, of course, had read through the complaint, which alleges, among other things, conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction, conspiracy to commit an act of terrorism, conspiracy to murder a foreign official -- that, of course, being the Saudi ambassador.
The complaint also saying that Arbabsiar did confess to at least some of these allegations when he was speaking to federal agents, when he was taken into custody on September 29th, that happening at JFK, there are now, we're told, just at about 8:00 p.m..
Also, his attorney who's representing him, Sabrina Shroff, had indicated that while he is in custody, Wolf, that he will be needing some sort of medication. Those medications were discussed with the judge. Also, Arbabsiar filled out some sort of a financial statement, signed his name to that, as well. And at the very end of the proceeding, a preliminary hearing was set for October 25th. So perhaps at that time, he'll be entering a plea. And I'm sure in between that time, we'll be hearing more about this alleged plot -- Wolf.
BLITZER: And he's not going anywhere. He's staying in jail. No bail for this suspect, Jason.
Walk us through that process.
CARROLL: Absolutely. Well, during a proceeding such as that we have today, normally, in a case like this, bail is something that would be discussed. That is something that was not even an issue in this particular case, Wolf, simply because of, obviously, the -- how dangerous this person is. The risk of flight is something else that weighs into whether or not someone will be eligible for bail. That wasn't even an issue in this particular proceeding -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Jason, stand by.
We're going to get back to you.
Jason is outside the courthouse in New York.
Lisa Sylvester is joining us now with more on this naturalized American citizen accused in the terror plot -- Lisa, what do we know about this individual?
LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf. Well, Manssor Arbabsiar is a naturalized citizen with an Iranian passport. And U.S. officials are saying that his cousin is a senior official with a special unit of Iran's Revolutionary Guard. He's a man named Abdul Reza Shahlai. And we are learning more about Arbabsiar. We saw him in court a short while ago. He is 56 years old. He is tied to the Corpus Christi, Texas area, and, also, Round Rock, Texas.
I have to tell you, Wolf, this is a guy who, within the last few years, has really flown under the radar and the paper trail on him is pretty thin. His last known address was from April, 2004 to July, 2010. And if you look that up and trace it back, it is actually the location of a business called One Stop Mail. This is essentially a P.O. box location. We called there and they said they've never heard of him. Checking his criminal record, we also looked into his past. He does have a couple of misdemeanors. One is from April, 2004, from the Austin, Texas area. And that is for driving with an invalid license. A little further back, in 1997, there was another driving with an invalid license and evading arrest. For that, he served 90 jails -- 90 days, rather, in jail.
Also, there are federal liens on his file by the IRS roughly from 2003 for roughly $5,800. That was cleared up. And there's another lien from a private creditor for $2,000 from 1999.
And again, U.S. information shows that he actually has two passports. One is from the United States. The other is Iranian -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Do we know anything about a wife, children, grandchildren, his profession, education, anything along those lines?
SYLVESTER: Right now, we know -- and, again, there's just not a lot of information on this guy. I mean it almost seems that this was a deliberate attempt by this guy to -- to really fall right under the radar.
We do believe that he has a wife. We're in the process of trying to track that down, track that information down. Again, he has his cousin. So we're trying to find out exactly who his relatives are and who are his connections. We do have a lead on a wife and we're pursuing that right now -- Wolf.
BLITZER: And his most recent job, do we have any idea what he did, ostensibly, to make a living?
SYLVESTER: No, we don't. I mean it -- it looks like he might have, at some point, been involved in several businesses. He was tied to an auto business at one point. But it's unclear if he was a partner or an owner of that. But he -- it does come up on his files on his listings. So we're trying to track that down to see.
But at this point, it looks like he might have been a businessman of some sort.
But again, the problem is going back and following the paper trail, everybody is saying they've never heard of this guy.
BLITZER: All right, Lisa.
I know you're working the paper trail and you're working your other sources.
We'll check back with you.
Our State Department correspondent, Jill Dougherty, is watching all of this unfold, as well. And we just heard from the secretary of State, making that statement -- a brief statement saying this -- this is a serious, serious matter, as far as U.S. attitude toward the Iranian government and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are concerned.
So the question to you, Jill, what does the U.S. do about this?
JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, number one, it immediately, as you heard, the Treasury Department has sanctions now against, specifically, five people. Four of them are senior officials in the Quds Force. That is part of the Revolutionary Guard Corps. And they are the people, those five, they say, who were pretty much, you know, let's call them the masterminds or at least sponsoring and directing this plot. That's the allegation.
Then the other thing that Secretary Clinton talked about, you heard her say isolate. And isolate is really the key, because what they want to do is not only have unilateral U.S. sanctions, which, at this point, are almost tapped out, you could say, and there's very little business between the countries.
What they want is the rest of the world to join in.
So Secretary Clinton is really lobbying, talking. They are explaining what happened and urging people to join in with them, to isolate, as much as possible, Iran. It's a very, very serious issue.
Wolf, as you know, you've really got four countries that are involved -- the United States, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Mexico.
BLITZER: And, potentially, Israel, as well, if you believe what...
DOUGHERTY: And Israel.
BLITZER: -- senior U.S. officials are saying, that this was just phase one, the alleged plot to kill the Saudi ambassador. But phase two was to bomb the Saudi and Israeli embassies here in Washington, as well as the Saudi and Israeli embassies in Buenos Aires Ares, Argentina.
That's the information you're getting, right, Jill?
DOUGHERTY: Yes. Though I'm not too sure that you can go really hard with it and say it was a worked out plot at all. But they -- it is something, we are told, they were considering. It is something that they, potentially, wanted to do. How far down the road they were, we don't know.
BLITZER: Let's walk through this plot that is spelled out in this document that the U.S. government released, the plot to attempt -- the alleged plot to kill Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States with the help of a Mexican drug cartel.
DOUGHERTY: Yeah, it...
BLITZER: Walk us through what we know on this, Jill.
DOUGHERTY: Well, the word that Robert Mueller of the FBI used is Hollywood script. And it does read like a Hollywood script.
But the allegation is that this began in Iran. They wanted to kill the Saudi ambassador. They then used two people -- or at least two that are named at this point. There could be more. But two. And the one person, Arbabsiar, is a naturalized U.S. citizen. In other words. He had a dual passport. He had an American passport. He had an Iranian passport.
He is in the United States. He is communicating with the other man, with Gholam Shakuri, who is part of the Quds Force back in Iran. They organized this.
And how are they going to carry out the assassination?
Well, they decide that they're going to get in touch with Mexican drug lords. And that is when Arbabsiar contacts what he thinks is part of the drug lord world in Mexico.
It turns out to be a DEA, Drug Enforcement Administration, informer. And that informer talks to him. They talk about the plot. The DEA contacts the FBI and then they stop the plot.
And how it was supposed to unfold, they -- there are some recorded conversations, we are told, it's alleged. And they say that -- they talked about maybe it would be easier to shoot the ambassador. But if it came to it, if they had to get him, let's say, in a restaurant that he frequented, well, then that just has to happen. And if other people have to die, that is what the government is saying, if other people have to die, that's just too bad, that that is what the conspirator said.
BLITZER: And in the document, they spell out some of the language that the suspect allegedly used, including a lot of references to the F word.
Well, we're watching this closely.
Jill, stand by.
The Mexican government has now just issued a statement, part of it saying: "From the outset, Mexico and the United States shared information and coordinated their actions, in strict compliance with domestic and international law. Mexico was able to neutralize a significant risk to Mexico's national security, while at the same time reinforcing bilateral and reciprocal cooperation with the United States."
That statement, in part, coming in from the government of Mexico just moments ago.
We're getting a lot more information on this alleged plot to kill Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States. We're following the breaking news. Much more in THE SITUATION ROOM right after this.
BLITZER: We're following the breaking news, the U.S. government alleging that Iran at the highest levels was involved in plotting to assassinate Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States, Adel al Jubeir, even if it meant killing him at a restaurant that he liked here in Washington and killing a lot of innocent people in the process, the allegation made in documents released a little while ago by the Justice Department and the FBI.
Only moments ago the Senate Majority Whip, Dick Durbin, spoke of this alleged terror plot on the Senate floor.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. DICK DURBIN (D), SENATE MAJORITY WHIP: This Iranian plot, state- sponsored Iranian plot to destroy the Saudi and Israeli embassies here in Washington, D.C., this is an outrage that they would reach this far, this obviously, into the United States. We know that they have backed terrorism forever. As my colleague said, recognized by our government as a state sponsor of terrorism. We need to heighten the sanctions on Iran and make it clear that this type of action will not be countenanced.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: You hear Dick Durbin, the Senate majority whip on the Senate floor just moments ago.
Let's bring in CNN's Reza Sayah. He's watching all of this and he's getting Iranian reaction to what is going on as well. They are disputing in very strong terms, Reza, these allegations from the Obama administration.
REZA SAYAH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, no question about it, Wolf. Strong denials coming from the office of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The spokesperson for the president almost mockingly describing these allegations as a "child's story," describing them as an effort by the Obama administration to distract the American public from America's domestic problems.
Here he is speaking to CNN just a moment ago.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (via translator): I think the U.S. government is busy fabricating a new scenario, and history has shown both the U.S. government and the CIA have a lot of experience in fabricating these scenarios, and this is just the latest one. I think their goal is to reach the American public. They want to take the public's mind off the serious domestic problems they are facing these days and scare them with fabricated problems outside the country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SAYAH: That was the spokesperson for Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. We asked him if he knew the two individuals who have been charged. He said no, but he also added that if Iran verifies that indeed they are Iranian citizens, the Iranian government would make an effort, Wolf, to help them. But again, strong denials coming from the president's office.
BLITZER: Reza, as you pointed out, if in fact these allegations are true that, a, there was an Iranian plot to kill the Saudi ambassador in Washington, and, b, if there was a bigger plot to blow up the Saudi and Israeli embassies in Washington as well as in Buenos Aires, Argentina, that would really be a dramatic escalation in what U.S. officials charge would be Iranian-sponsored state terrorism.
SAYAH: I don't think there's any question that if indeed these allegations are proven to be true it would be an escalation in this relationship that's already very tumultuous. But I think what would the intention of Iranian government be if indeed they were part of this plot? And I think it's important to remind everyone these are just allegations.
But I think a lot of experts would say they would have nothing to gain and maybe more to lose. I think a lot of people are going to question if indeed these allegations are true. The fact is Iran, if it wants to go after U.S. targets, if it wants to go after Saudi targets, there's plenty of targets available in the region. Bahrain, for example, Lebanon, for example, U.S. targets in Iraq and Afghanistan.
So I think a lot of people are going to be of the view that if indeed Iran was involved in this they'd have much more to lose than gain, and I think that's why some would question if indeed these allegations are true.
BLITZER: It would it be part, Reza, of Iran's modus operandi to try to use Mexican drug cartel members as cutout to try to prevent any fingerprints of their involvement in this kind of alleged plot?
SAYAH: They have been accused of using other groups before. First and foremost, Hezbollah. That's why repeatedly the U.S. has called them the state sponsor of terrorism.
But what's important to remember is this type of accusation is unprecedented, Washington accusing Iran of plotting an assassination of a diplomat on U.S. soil. And I think if you take a step back and watch what's happening in Washington right now, there's a lot of lawmakers who are hawkish about Iran who are already talking about retaliation and further sanctions.
And this perhaps more than anything could be an indication of Washington going on a more aggressive path when it comes to Iran as opposed to the diplomatic path that was so heavily advertised by the Obama administration when he first took office, Wolf.
BLITZER: Reza Sayah, we'll stay in close touch with you. Our own Brian Todd is working this story as well. He is getting more on the suspect and more on the breaking news right after this.
BLITZER: The breaking news this hour, U.S. officials are promising action against Iran for an alleged plot to kill the Saudi ambassador to the United States, Adel al Jubeir, right here in Washington, D.C. One of two suspects, a U.S. citizen, a naturalized U.S. citizen, was also an Iranian citizen appeared in court a little while ago.
President Obama is said to be briefing world leaders about this alleged plot. The United States already has ordered sanctions against five Iranians with ties to the alleged scheme. Saudi Arabia is thanking the U.S. for foiling what it calls a despicable plan to murder its ambassador to the United States. Iran is calling all of these allegations a fabrication. But the attorney general of the United States, Eric Holder, says the Tehran government will pay a price.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ERIC HOLDER, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: In addition to holding these individual conspirators accountable for their alleged role in this plot, the United States is committed to holding Iran accountable for its actions. Arbabsiar and Shakuri are charged with conspiracy to murder a foreign official, conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction, and conspiracy to commit an act of international terrorism, among other charges.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Eric Holder, the attorney general of the United States. Let's go to chief White House correspondent Jessica Yellin, who is getting some more information. Jessica, the president has been briefed on this for many months, I should say.
JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, dating back to June was when he was first briefed, which dates this plot for some time now, Wolf.
A senior administration official here says that the U.S. and this administration won't tolerate the targeting of a diplomat on our shores. I should say that a senior administration official, another one, tells me that this administration is working closely with international partners to isolate Iran, that they think it's a dangerous escalation by Iran and a flagrant violation of international law.
Now, as you know, the Treasury Department has already announced sanctions against the five individuals named in this plot. I can tell you that means the moment those sanctions are announced those assets are frozen.
But an official, senior official tells me they are also looking at other ways to step up further financial isolation of Iran. And they are broadly looking for additional ways to apply financial pressure on them, and that they believe that the sanctions to date have had significant impact, but there are still other things that could be done.
So you want to ask sort of what more can be done given the intensity of the sanctions regime that the U.S. already has on Iran. I can tell you that to date, Wolf, what we have done as a nation is apply pressure to Iran for bad behavior, for acts of terrorism, for pursuing their nuclear program. But we have not broadly enacted sanctions just for their political posture the way the U.S. has against, say, Syria or Libya, and perhaps that is something that the U.S. could look at down the line as one possibility.
But again, the U.S. -- officials saying on the record that they are looking at other ways to step up pressure on Iran. Clearly here they're not looking at military steps now. They're looking at financial and other forms of diplomatic pressure, Wolf.
BLITZER: Presumably they have other steps in mind. Jessica, when I spoke to Mike Rogers, the chairman of the House intelligence committee here in Washington about an hour or so ago, he made it clear that based on all the information he's getting, and he's been well briefed for several months on what's going on as the chairman of this powerful committee in the House of Representatives, he has no doubt that the highest elements of the Iranian government were directly involved and authorized this alleged plot. Are officials at the White House, background or On the Record, are they going as far as Mike Rogers did in the conversation we had here in THE SITUATION ROOM?
YELLIN: They are not, Wolf. They are not going that far and they are not touching that. I have absolutely no confirmation from here that they have any indication how far up this plot may have reached. But I'll continue to pursue it.
BLITZER: All right, Jessica, thanks very much. Jessica Yellin is over at the White House.
Let's bring in our own Brian Todd. He's taking a closer look at the key suspect in this case, Manssor Arbabsiar.
What are you learning, Brian?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, according to this complaint filed today, the chief suspect in this case, Manssor Arbabsiar, met with a DEA undercover informant earlier this year. The complaint says that informant was posing as an associate of a major drug trafficking cartel.
A federal law enforcement official tells us that cartel is The Zetas, one of Mexico's most notorious and violent cartels. The complaint says Arbabsiar told the informant that Arbabsiar's associates in Iran had discussed a number of violent missions for the informant and the cartel to perform, including the murder of the Saudi ambassador.
Now, if this is proven true, it would not be the first time that the Iranians have been accused of going through surrogates to carry out a terrorist or assassination plot. The two deadliest plots to date, the 1992 bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires, Argentina, which killed more than two dozen people, and the 1994 bombing of the Jewish community center in Buenos Aires that killed 85 people.
In both cases, intelligence officials believed Iran worked through operatives tied to the militant group Hezbollah to carry out the attacks. Iran has denied involvement in those plots.
Then you've got more isolated targeted plots, some right here in the United States. U.S. diplomatic cables published by WikiLeaks say in 2009, a hit man was hired to kill a prominent Iranian dissident in Glendora, California. That dissident was a radio host who had often called for the overthrow of the Iranian government.
The cables say the man who tried to hire the hit man claimed to have worked for Iranian intelligence. That plot was never carried out because the hit man got cold feet and told authorities about it, Wolf, a targeted plot right there in California.
BLITZER: And I remember, what, about three decades or so ago a plot -- an actual assassination of a former Iranian diplomat here in Washington, and the accusation was that the Iranian regime killed this guy.
TODD: That's true, Wolf. And that's got the eeriest similarities to the plot we're learning about today.
This was in 1980, just after the Iranian Revolution. A former Iranian diplomat named Ali Akbar Tabatabaei. He had been holding meetings of Iranian dissidents at his home in Bethesda, Maryland, just a few miles from here in the D.C. area.
In July of that year, a man who had borrowed a postal truck and disguised himself as a mailman came to Tabatabaei's door, said he had a package for him, and shot him to death. That suspect was identified as Dawud Salahuddin, an American-born Muslim convert. His birth name is David Belfield.
U.S. prosecutors and other authorities believe he acted on the orders of the Iranian government. Salahuddin got away, made his way to Iran, and has lived there ever since as a fugitive. He apparently got into acting at one point, and is even believed to have had a role in the movie "Kandahar." The Iranian government has denied involvement in that attack as well.
Wolf, you cannot make this stuff up. The guy apparently does this, gets away with it, gets to Tehran. He has been harbored there as a fugitive.
Some people have caught up to him in the years since then, but that was the closest we've come, and that plot was successful. They killed an Iranian diplomat right here in Washington.
BLITZER: It was actually in Bethesda, Maryland --
TODD: In Bethesda, Maryland, right.
BLITZER: -- a suburb of Washington. I remember the news at that time.
Brian, good work. Thanks very much.
Let's get some perspective now on what's going on with the Middle East scholar Fouad Ajami. He's a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution.
I don't know what you could say about this, Fouad, but it did come as a pretty huge surprise to me. But I don't know about you.
FOUAD AJAMI, SR. FELLOW HOOVER INST.: Well, it's amazing. I mean, you and I know and so many people in Washington know al-Jubeir. We don't even know the word "ambassador" -- this is new -- attachment to his name.
He has been in Washington so long, he knows the ways of Washington. He's a friend of so many of us.
He has been in Washington since his days as a student at Georgetown University. And then he worked for Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the former ambassador.
He is loyal to king and country. He is not a decision-maker in Saudi Arabia. This is the odd thing about it. He is not a member of the royal family. So this tells you something about the incoherence of Iranian policy.
BLITZER: If these allegations, Fouad, are true, allegations by the Justice Department here in Washington, why would the Iranians want to kill Adel al-Jubeir?
AJAMI: Well, you know, it's amazing. I mean, I think, look, when you have our attorney general, and when you have our director of the FBI, and when you have our attorney for the Southern District in New York all come out and issue this indictment, you have to take it very seriously. But you also keep in mind there are many, many Irans, if you will.
There are many parts of the Iranian government. Like, we can say, well, Ahmadinejad didn't make that decision. But Ahmadinejad doesn't have to make that decision. The Quds Force can make that decision.
The Quds Force has its own money, makes its own decision, and pays no heed to Ahmadinejad. So there are many Iranian intelligence services, and this could be just one of many outfits.
BLITZER: Well, why would they want Adel al-Jubeir dead? What would that achieve for the Quds Force, let's say?
AJAMI: That's exactly the question that I had when I heard of this incredible plot. What would you gain?
I mean, would you send a message to Saudi Arabia? Again, there are many different messages you can send to Saudi Arabia.
But I think the fact that there is this conspiracy, that they are willing, if you will, to committing this deed on American soil, this is a very troubling development. And you're absolutely right, Wolf, they gain nothing.
It's not like somehow or another that if you assassinate the Saudi ambassador, Saudi policy is going to change. All we know about Ambassador al-Jubeir is his gift and talent as a representative and spokesman for his country in Washington, D.C. That's it.
BLITZER: Yes, we know him quite well. We've known him for many years.
I went with him to Saudi Arabia back in 2002, before the war in Iraq, when I went over to the Prince Sultan Air Base outside of Riyadh with Adel al-Jubeir, now the Saudi ambassador. He's been around Washington for a long time.
But here's the other disturbing part of this story, Fouad. If you believe this document that the Justice Department released, they said that these Mexican cartel guns for hire, if you will, they were going to try to kill him at a popular restaurant that he liked here in Washington, and it didn't make any difference if they killed a whole bunch of innocent people who were dining at that restaurant at the same time.
Is this standard operating procedure for the Iranians, for the Quds Force, shall we say, that they would go ahead and just blow up a restaurant in order to kill the Saudi ambassador?
AJAMI: Absolutely. Why not?
I mean, if you are part of the Quds Force -- and we have encountered the Quds Force, if you will. They have been waging a kind of underground war against American forces in Iraq, they have been engaged in all kinds of dirty business -- they would have no mercy for anyone caught up.
And they don't believe anyone is innocent. And so if you are going to commit this deed, if you are willing to commit this deed, if you are willing to pay for it -- and there is money, money has changed hands. This is not a small amount of money that has been committed to this operation. Even the first $100,000 tells you again that there is this chaos in the Iranian world, and parts of the Iranian government may not know what the other parts are doing.
BLITZER: And the story remains to be played out, because these coming days and weeks, they are going to be rather tense, I suspect, in this U.N./Iranian relationship.
Fouad, we'll stay in close touch with you. Thank you.
AJAMI: Thank you.
BLITZER: All right. We're getting new information on the suspect. There's a second suspect also involved who's on the loose right now. The U.S. government believes he has fled to Iran.
Stand by. More information on the breaking news right after this.
BLITZER: We're getting more on the suspect in this alleged plot to kill Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States, Adel al-Jubeir.
Lisa Sylvester is working this part of the story for us.
What else are you picking up, Lisa? SYLVESTER: Hi there, Wolf.
Well, the FBI has been at his home in Round Rock, Texas, and his wife, Martha, is believed to be there, although she has not been answering the door for our producer or answering the phone. And we spoke to the FBI in the San Antonio office. What they have done is they referred us to the Department of Justice, but they did say that they are conducting what they call a regular and usual criminal investigation at that address.
And it appears -- it appears at this time that there is a younger Manssor Arbabsiar, age 21, who shares the same address in Round Rock with the 56-year-old arrested. Now, we are also learning a little bit more about Manssor Arbabsiar, the senior, the father here.
And we know that he's 56 years old. He does have a couple of misdemeanors. One is from April of 2004, from the Austin, Texas, area. It is driving with an invalid license.
And a little further back, in 1987, there was another driving with an invalid license charge, and also an evading arrest charge. He served 90 days in jail for that. And U.S. official information shows that he actually has two passports, one U.S. and one Iranian -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Thanks, Lisa. I know you're working this story for us. We'll get more information to our viewers.
A little while ago the secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, addressed this alleged plot at the State Department.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: Well, I think that you saw the press conference that the attorney general and the director of the FBI and others gave announcing the disruption of this plot. It was a terrific achievement by our law enforcement and intelligence communities. And we will be consulting with our friends and partners around the world about how we can send a very strong message that this kind of action which violates international norms must be ended, and other areas where we can cooperate more closely in order to send a strong message to Iran and further isolate it from the international community will also be considered.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: The secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, speaking at the State Department just a little while ago.
Let's bring in CNN's Hala Gorani right now for more analysis.
A lot of people don't really appreciate how this Iranian/Saudi relationship has deteriorated in recent years.
HALA GORANI, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It has.
In 2007, President Ahmadinejad of Iran made a state visit to Riyadh. One of the sources I spoke to today told me that the king later said it was a state visit of hypocrisy, and ever since there have been many proxy battles, Wolf, across the region, whether it's Lebanon, whether it's Syria, whether it was the uprising in Bahrain, that Saudi troops helped quell. This was a Shia-led uprising in the tiny island kingdom of Bahrain.
So, across the region, you've seen this rift between the two countries that has taken a sectarian sort of quality, identity to it, really put these two big regional superpowers against each other head-to-head in the region in a battle for influence. But as I said, Iran is a Shiite/Persian country, Saudi Arabia is a Sunni Arab kingdom. So there are many differences there.
BLITZER: I've had many conversations with top Saudi officials over the years. And as worried as the Israelis might be about Iran's potential to develop a nuclear arsenal, the Saudis are probably just as worried.
GORANI: Yes. And that's a great point to make, Wolf, because they do see in Saudi Arabia the Iranian nuclear program and how militarized it becomes eventually as an existential threat perhaps in the same way that Israel does.
And what's interesting, as you may know, in November of 2010, a WikiLeaks cable revealed that Saudi Arabia did support the idea of taking out militarily some of these nuclear installations in Iran. So it's really just a question of seeing how far this tension is ratcheted up and how it ends up playing out in the region.
BLITZER: And Gloria Borger is joining us as well, our chief political analyst.
Gloria, there's been some extensive communication, I understand, already between the U.S. and other governments.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, there has been. And what I've just learned, Wolf, is that within the last couple of weeks, the national security adviser, Tom Donilon, actually traveled to Saudi Arabia and briefed King Abdullah on the terror plot personally. And I was told this by a senior administration official, who said that the Saudis were outraged, and not only because of the plot, but also because the ambassador is so close to the king.
I was also told, Wolf, that the administration does not have specific information tying the supreme leader into the plot, but as you heard from the House Intelligence chairman, they do have specific information tying the senior officials in the Quds Force to the plot. So the big question that we have remaining is, do we assume there was some communication between these senior officials and the political regime there or not? We don't know the answer to that.
I also know, Wolf, that it's quite likely that the administration will brief the diplomatic corps here in Washington on the terror plot. They have not done that yet.
BLITZER: And I want both of you and I want our viewers listen to what Mike Rogers, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said here in THE SITUATION ROOM just a little while ago.
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REP. MIKE ROGERS (R), CHAIRMAN, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: I can say again with high confidence, I believe it was an Iranian government- sanctioned event. So I don't mean to be cute on you, Wolf --
BLITZER: No, I understand.
ROGERS: -- but we need to be careful as this unfolds.
Again, as a former FBI agent myself, it's a little shocking to see at the level of the transaction, the amount of the money, the quickness of the decisions that were made in order for certain elements of this to fall into place, tells us that it is clearly tied to the highest levels of the Iranian government.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: That's a pretty strong statement. And he's been briefed over these several months, Hala, as this plot unfolded, so I guess the question is -- there's a couple questions. What's the U.S. going to do about it? But what's Saudi Arabia going to do about this?
GORANI: And also, I think, another question that people have been asking, very well-informed and knowledgeable analysts, what did Iran -- regardless of who might be behind this alleged plot, what would they get out of it? I mean, what would be the strategic even benefit of mounting, allegedly, or planning on mounting an attack against the top Saudi diplomat in Washington? I mean, that's really a question that's out there, and some people are scratching their heads about it.
Where is the strategic benefit?
BLITZER: The only thing I can imagine, Gloria -- and I've known Adel al-Jubeir for many years, and I know he is an outspoken advocate for Saudi Arabia, as he should be. But he's certainly been one of the most behind-the-scenes, effective Arab ambassadors in Washington in terms of speaking out against Iran and its nuclear program.
And the only thing I can imagine is maybe the Iranians got wind of Adel al-Jubeir's involvement speaking out on this issue and said, you know what? They're going to go -- if you believe this allegation, they're going to go hire these drug cartel killers to assassinate him.
BORGER: Right. And I think you also asked the right question, which is what do the Saudis do now?
The senior administration official I spoke with said, look, we've already announced additional sanctions. But he said there is further intent to target the IRGC, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, as an organization, and the Saudis will clearly be a part of that effort. And they believe that the Saudis can be very effective with other Arab nations in terms of trying to do this.
BLITZER: Hala, very quickly, how is this going to play in the Arab world?
GORANI: Well, I think perhaps some might say unfortunately, this is going to reinforce the idea that sectarian alliances determine the way politics unfold in that region, whereas perhaps a few years ago there was a bit of (INAUDIBLE) between the two countries, Iran and Saudi Arabia, with state visits, one by Ahmadinejad, as we mentioned, in 2007 to Riyadh with King Abdullah, even though afterward the king might have set a few not-so-nice things about it in private.
But, still, this is a rapid deterioration of a relationship. And with all of these proxy battles unfolding in the region, whether it's Lebanon or Syria or elsewhere, this is going to be seen extremely -- in an extreme sectarian light.
BORGER: The question is, how do you exert more pressure on countries like Russia, China to isolate Iran. That's another big geopolitical question.
BLITZER: Some of the European countries as well. But knowing the Saudis as I do, they will seek revenge for this alleged plot, and we'll see what happens next.
Guys, thanks very much.
More of the breaking news right after this.
BLITZER: Our CNN national security contributors Fran Townsend and Tom Fuentes are with us as well.
First, to you, Fran, what do we know in terms of retaliation from the U.S. towards Iran? What do we expect is possible?
FRAN TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: You know, the only thing that U.S. officials are currently talking about, Wolf, is the fact that they're going to brief their colleagues on the U.N. Security Council and the diplomatic community in Washington.
We've seen a statement from Prime Minister Cameron in the U.K. supporting the U.S. investigation. And I expect what you're going to see now is a move towards tougher sanctions and an ability to leverage this horrible set of facts for Iran with Russia and China, who have been reluctant to support such additional sanctions. But it's not clear what they'll do beyond that.
I think you're going it see the Treasury Department try to move against additional individuals who can be identified in Iran, in the Quds Force, associated with this plot. But, beyond that, there is no talk about certainly military action or any other action in addition to sanctions and financial sort of freezing actions.
BLITZER: And Tom Fuentes is here.
Tom, you're a former FBI assistant director. When you heard about this alleged plot as documented by the Justice Department and the FBI today, it brought back some personal memories to you.
TOM FUENTES, FMR. ASSISTANT DIRECTOR, FBI: Well, I thought back to the attacks in the early '90s in Buenos Aires, where Iran ordered the bombings in '92 and in '94 of a Jewish community center, and then the Israeli Embassy, and more than 100 people were killed in both bombings all together. And a lengthy investigation by the Argentineans, with support from the United States, led to direct ties all the way back to the top of the Iranian government.
I was on Interpol's executive committee when, in 2007, red notices were issued for the arrest of the six members of Quds Force and Hezbollah who carried out the attack. The Argentine government sought red notices against the president of the country --
BLITZER: The president of Iran?
FUENTES: Of Iran, yes, and their foreign minister, and their ambassador to Argentina. But under international law, and under Interpol rules, they could only issue the notices for the non- diplomats and non-head of state.
BLITZER: And what are red notices?
FUENTES: They're an international notice that any country that has ability to take into custody one of the subjects do it, and the original country will extradite back. So, the Argentine government would extradite any of those individual as rested.
And by Interpol issuing those notices, it's saying that the legal department at Interpol, at their headquarters in Lyon, France, reviewed the investigation, reviewed the probable cause, and concur with the government that seeks the notices to have those notices issued.
BLITZER: And was the U.S. government and the Argentinean government on the same -- were they on the same page as far as this reaching the highest elements of the then-Iranian government?
FUENTES: Yes. And there was a joint investigation, and the U.S. assisted Argentina, and, of course, the Iranian government looked at it as the U.S. being involved. Actually, the Iranian government looked at it at the time, that Argentina was a puppet of the United States, and that's the only reason they wanted these notices, was to further U.S. political gain in the region.
BLITZER: I want to show our viewers a photograph that we're just getting in right now. This is the house of the suspect, Manssor Arbabsiar, in Round Rock, Texas.
There you can see the house where he and his family have been living over these past few years. We're getting a lot more information minute by minute about this suspect, Manssor Arbabsiar, the other suspect who is still at large. The U.S. believes he's in Iran right now, Gholam Shakuri.
You see what's going on. So when you heard about this, Tom, and you heard -- it brought back memories of what was going on in the '90s, so I guess you weren't all that stunned by these revelations today.
FUENTES: Well, not just the '90s, but Quds Force and Hezbollah, as a surrogate of them, have carried out attacks for decades. So it wasn't just them.
They've attacked us. They've attacked U.S. forces in Iraq. Even after the --
BLITZER: The Argentinean bombings, yes.
FUENTES: Yes, even after the bombings in Argentina, within a week Jewish community centers in London -- there were two bombings in London. Now, there was only one person killed in those, compared to the more than 100 totaled in Argentina.
So the attacks that they have carried out over the years have just gone on and on. This is not unusual. What is unusual is that Hezbollah, in particular, and the Quds Force, have not carried out attacks in the past in the U.S. because they fund-raise here.
BLITZER: We'll take a quit break.
Tom, stand by.
More of the breaking news right after this.
BLITZER: Some other news we're following, including major announcements today from two top Republicans.
Lisa Sylvester's monitoring that, some of the other important stories in THE SITUATION ROOM.
What else is going on, Lisa?
SYLVESTER: Hi there, Wolf.
Well, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is endorsing Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Christie announced his decision today, saying, "Romney is the man to lead America."
The governor pointed to Romney's business and gubernatorial experience as key to solving the country's problems. The endorsement comes just hours before Romney and his Republican rivals face off in a presidential debate in New Hampshire.
And the GOP field will not include Rudy Giuliani. The former New York mayor and 2008 Republican presidential candidate announced today he is not entering the race. In explaining why he isn't launching a bid, he referred to Governor Chris Christie's decision to stay out, saying, "If it's too late for Christie to get in, then it's too late for me."
An Israeli soldier who has been held by Hamas for five years in Gaza will soon be released. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says Gilad Shalit will return to Israel in the next couple of days as part of a prisoner exchange deal with Palestinians.
And President Obama is pushing his jobs bill in Pennsylvania, as the Senate gears up for a test vote on the measure. Today, he told a crowd of union workers, "It is time for Congress to put country ahead of party" and pass his $447 billion plan. The bill provides funding for infrastructure projects and job training, and would be paid for by a millionaire's tax.
So, a key vote tonight -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Lisa, thanks very much.
That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer IN THE SITUATION ROOM.
The news continues next on CNN.