By TOM HAYSAssociated Press
NEW YORK (AP) - A U.S. citizen-turned-covert Iranian operative was sentenced to 25 years in prison Thursday for plotting to kill the Saudi Arabian ambassador to the United States by bombing a Washington restaurant.
Manssor Arbabsiar, a former used car salesman from Corpus Christi, Texas, had pleaded guilty in October to two conspiracy charges and a murder-for-hire count alleging he was directed by the Iranian military to hire a Mexican drug cartel to carry out the assassination. U.S. agents disrupted the plot.
Defense attorneys sought to convince the judge that their Iranian-born client deserved only a 10-year term. In court papers, they had argued his crimes were "the result of a severe mental breakdown caused by a long-standing, untreated bipolar disorder," and that he had no previous involvement in terrorism or "international intrigue."
Arbabsiar, 58, asked for mercy before hearing his sentence in federal court in Manhattan.
"What I did was wrong," he said. "I take responsibility for it. ... My mind sometimes is not in a good place."
But U.S. District Judge John Keenan cited evidence that Arbabsiar had transferred nearly $100,000 to an FBI bank account in 2011, believing it was a down payment for the killing. He also cited secret recordings in which Arbabsiar told a confidential informant that the risk that the explosion could kill innocent bystanders, including U.S. senators, was "no problem" and "no big deal."
"Nothing in the record warrants a sentence of less than 25 years," the judge said. "In this case, deterrence is of supreme import. Others who might have the financial or political purposes of engaging in acts of violence against the United States or its interests must learn the lesson that such conduct will not be tolerated."
After his arrest, Arbabsiar confessed that he was recruited, funded and directed by men he believed were senior officials in Iran's Qods Force, a branch of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps that is designated by the U.S. Treasury Department as a supporter of the Taliban and terrorist organizations, the government said.
Arbabsiar went to Mexico in the summer of 2011 and approached someone he thought was a member of the vicious Mexican narco-terror group, Los Zetas, for help with an attack on a Saudi embassy in Washington. The man turned out to be an informant for U.S. drug agents who began recording their conversations.
According to prosecutors, Arbabsiar asked the informant about his knowledge of explosives. The scheme eventually centered on targeting the Saudi ambassador in his favorite restaurant, though the business was never identified.
The informant told Arbabsiar in another meeting that he would need at least four men to carry out the attack at a cost of $1.5 million - a price that Arbabsiar agreed to pay.
In a statement Thursday following the sentence, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara described Arbabsiar as "an enemy among us - the key conduit for, and facilitator of, a nefarious international plot concocted by members of the Iranian military to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States and as many innocent bystanders as necessary to get the job done."
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