Assassins Creed: Why the plot to kill John Bolton is in the DNA of the Iranian regime

Special Assassins Creed: Why the plot to kill John Bolton is in the DNA of the Iranian regime
John Bolton (left), Mike Pompeo and Adel Al-Jubeir have been revealed to be the latest targets for assassination by the IRGC. (AFP photos)
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Updated 12 August 2022

Assassins Creed: Why the plot to kill John Bolton is in the DNA of the Iranian regime

Assassins Creed: Why the plot to kill John Bolton is in the DNA of the Iranian regime
  • In 2011 Iranian operatives had similarly plotted to kill (then Saudi ambassador) Adel Al-Jubeir in Washington, D.C.
  • DoJ revelation of IRGC plot to target Bolton and Pompeo exposes Tehran’s long history of overseas terror

QAMISHLI, Syria/JEDDAH: For the past year, unbeknown to the citizens of Washington D.C., an assassin had allegedly been stalking the streets of the US capital searching for a prime target: A former high-ranking American official whose killing would shake the world and serve as a symbol of vengeance against the West.

This alleged plan was revealed to have been foiled when, on Wednesday, the US Department of Justice officially charged an Iranian citizen with plotting to kill John Bolton, a senior national security adviser under both the Bush and Trump administrations.

Shahram Poursafi was charged with use of interstate commerce facilities in the commission of murder for hire and providing and attempting to provide material support to terrorists.




The FBi announcement of ‘wanted’ Shahram Poursafi. (AFP)

According to the Justice Department’s indictment, Poursafi attempted to hire criminals in the US to carry out the murder in Washington, D.C., or Maryland for $300,000. On Nov. 9, 2021, Poursafi contacted a confidential source.

The FBI said that Poursafi is a member of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which is designated as a terrorist organization by Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the US. He was acting on behalf of the Quds Force, an elite arm of the IRGC. Poursafi remains at large and is considered armed and dangerous.

BIO

Name: Shahram Poursafi

Place of birth: Iran

Date of birth: Sept. 21, 1976

Affiliation: Quds Force, Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps

Criminal charges: Material support to terrorism, attempted murder-for-hire of high-ranking US official

Status: At large

Nasser Kanaani, an Iranian foreign ministry spokesman, has strenuously denied that the Iranian government planned to assassinate Bolton, calling the accusations “baseless.” But the regime’s long history of targeting critics and dissidents abroad belies its protestation of innocence.

Since the Iranian Revolution in 1979, Tehran has carried out assassinations and attacks on Iranian dissidents and foreign officials worldwide. Which is why for Iranian affairs expert Dr. Mohammed Al-Sulami, the revelation of the most recent plot comes as no surprise.

“Iran has been following this strategy for decades,” Al-Sulami, founder and chairman of Rasanah: International Institute for Iranian Studies in Riyadh, told Arab News. “More than two dozen successful assassination operations have been carried out by the Iranian regime across the globe.”




Iranian agent Ali Vakili Rad (C) leaving prison in Poissy, France, on May 18, 2010 after his release from jail for murdering the Shah's last prime minister, Shapour Bakhtiar. (AFP)

Since 1979, individuals believed to be linked to the Iranian government have carried out attacks against dissidents and opposition figures in more than a dozen countries, including, France, the US, Austria, Switzerland, the UK, Germany, the Netherlands, Albania, Thailand, Denmark and Turkey. Individuals linked to the Iranian government have also hijacked aircraft and bombed government offices as well as military installations around the world.

“Worldwide threat assessments from the US intelligence community have for years warned that Iran is trying to develop networks inside the US for such operations,” Jason Brodsky, policy director at United Against Nuclear Iran, told Arab News.

“These operations are shocking, but not surprising. There’s a long history dating back to the beginning of the Islamic Revolution,” he said, citing the assassination of Iranian exile and former press attache to the Iranian embassy in the US, Ali Akbar Tabatabaei, in Maryland in 1980.

IRANIAN PLOTS IN NUMBERS

21 Targeted Iranian dissidents.

21 Directed at Western or Arab targets.

19 Aimed against Israelis or Jews.

Brodsky pointed out that in 2011, the US Justice Department charged two Iranian citizens, one of whom was a commander in the Quds Force, with planning a murder-for-hire targeting the then Saudi ambassador Adel Al-Jubeir at a restaurant in Washington, D.C.

FBI investigations revealed that money had been wired to Iranian US dual national Mansour Arbabsiar, one of the potential assassins, from a known Quds Force bank account, and that the fee for the assassination was $1.5 million.

The 2011 criminal complaint from the Justice Department said that “the Quds Force conducts sensitive covert operations abroad, including terrorist attacks, assassinations and kidnappings, and is believed to sponsor attacks against coalition forces in Iraq.”

Eric Holder, US attorney general at the time, added: “The criminal complaint unsealed today exposes a deadly plot directed by factions of the Iranian government to assassinate a foreign ambassador on US soil with explosives.”




Mansour Arbabsiar was sentenced by a US court in 2013 for plotting to assassinate Adel Al-Jubeir, then Saudi ambassador to the US. (Twitter photo)

Ultimately, the plot, which involved the hiring of a Mexican drug cartel to assassinate Al-Jubeir — now the Saudi minister of state for foreign affairs — failed due to poor planning and the use of unskilled operatives. Arbabsiar, who was working as a used car salesman in Texas, was sentenced to 25 years in prison in 2013.

“Iran has, beyond any reasonable doubt, sponsored international terrorism,” Dr. Hamdan Al-Shehri, a Saudi political analyst and international relations scholar, told Arab News.

“They do so through their agents and proxy army, creating chaos in the region and beyond. They are now a threat not only to the region, but to the US as well by attacking US missions and army bases.”

Such attacks blamed on Iran are not just limited to political figures. Masih Alinejad, an Iranian US journalist and women’s rights activist, was the target of a kidnapping plot in July of last year. Just last month, a man with a loaded AK-47 rifle was arrested outside her home in New York City.

Brodsky says that in the plot against Alinejad, instead of the elite international Quds Force, Iranian intelligence operatives were directly involved.




Iranian US journalist and women’s rights activist Masih Alinejad was the target of a  Tehran kidnapping plot last year. (AFP file)

“Not just the IRGC Quds Force has attempted operations to harm American citizens on US soil. Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence has also undertaken those operations,” he said. “That shows that we have different parts of the Iranian system all trying to penetrate the US, and that’s definitely a cause for concern.”

Sources close to Mike Pompeo, the former US secretary of state, told CNN that Bolton was not the only target of the most recent Iranian plot. Pompeo was reportedly one of two individuals whom Poursafi had sought to assassinate through a third party, with the price tag for Pompeo’s death being $1 million.

Major Iranian terror plots on foreign soil

Dec. 7, 1979 Assassin shoots and kills Shahriar Shafiq, nephew of the former shah, outside his home in Paris. 

July 13, 1989 Iranian agents shoot and kill Kurdish Democratic Party of Iran leader Abdul Rahman Ghassemlou in Vienna.

April 24, 1990 Iranian academic and opposition figure Kazem Rajavi shot dead in his car outside Geneva.

Aug. 6, 1991 Agents kill former Iranian PM Shapour Bakhtiar at his home near Paris, where he fled after the 1979 revolution.

July 24, 1992 UK orders three Iranians out of the country after linking them to a plot to kill award-winning novelist Salman Rushdie.

Aug. 8, 1992 Iranian singer and artist Fereydoun Farrokhzad found beaten to death in his Bonn apartment.

Sept. 17, 1992 Three Iranian- Kurdish leaders killed in a Greek eatery in Berlin in a machine- gun attack dubbed ‘the Mykonos restaurant murders.’

Feb. 20, 1996 Zahra Rajabi, a senior member of the opposition MEK based in Turkey, shot dead in her Istanbul apartment.

Oct. 11, 2011 US officials uncover Iranian plot to kill Adel Al-Jubeir, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the US. Iranian national Manssor Arbabsiar pleads guilty to planning the attack.

June 30, 2018 Bomb plot targets Iranian National Council of Resistance rally in Paris. Prosecutors charge Iranian diplomat Assadolah Assadi and three others with planning the attack.

Nov. 14, 2019 Iranian scientist and dissident Masoud Molavi Vardanjani shot dead on an Istanbul street by Iranian agents.

July 2020 Iran says it has captured US-based opposition figure Jamshid Sharmahd. Details of his detention and subsequent removal to Iran remain a mystery.

July 2021 US officials claim Iranian agents plan to kidnap New York-based journalist and Iran critic Masih Alinejad along with four others in Canada and the UK.

Iran’s plots against US officials and citizens have come in the wake of the Jan. 1, 2020, strike that killed Qassem Soleimani, commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force. After the incident, Iranian political and military officials vowed revenge for Soleimani’s death.

However, according to Al-Sulami, the regime completely failed in terms of taking revenge, denting its image among followers in the region and beyond.




The late Major General Qasem Soleimani, former commander of Iran's notorious Quds Force. (AFP)

“Soleimani is not a replaceable military commander in terms of managing the IRGC’s militias in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen; he is a big loss for the management of Iran’s regional file,” Al-Sulami told Arab News, adding that Iran resorted to carrying out assassinations when its propaganda failed to convince Iranians and Iran-backed militias that it had avenged Soleimani’s death.

In January, two years after the killing of Soleimani, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi vowed to exact vengeance on those responsible if then US President Donald Trump was not put on trial for ordering the strike.

 

 

Pompeo was serving as secretary of state at the time of Soleimani’s killing, and Bolton had pushed for both regime change in Iran and the US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear agreement.

Al-Shehri says the latest revelation begs the question of how US-Iranian relations will be affected, if at all. “Since Ayatollah Khomeini denounced the US as the ‘Great Satan’ and approved seizing the American Embassy in Tehran in November 1979, the US has treated Iran as one of the most extreme, irrational and dangerous governments in the world,” he told Arab News.




In this Feb. 7, 2019 photo, US National Security Adviser John Bolton (L) and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (R) listen as then President Donald Trump speaks in Washington, DC. (Getty Images via AFP)

After the attempt on Bolton and Pompeo’s lives, he asks, “will the US still allow Iran to continue its enrichment program? Will they allow Iran to obtain nuclear capabilities.”

With the uncovering of the alleged plot, political commentators took to social media to criticize the Biden’s administration’s approach to relations with Iran.

“Intent to murder a former senior US official is not enough to dissuade this administration from negotiating with Iran,” tweeted Simone Ledeen, former US deputy assistant secretary of defense for the Middle East.

 

 

Reacting on Twitter, Morgan Ortagus, a former State Department spokesperson, said: “It is clear that the Iranian regime will spare no cost to kill (Mike Pompeo). The smoking gun that the Biden administration apparently requires to push back on Iran must not be a mass-casualty event with our former secretary of state at the center.”

Analysts caution that the perception of a lack of serious consequences may be behind Iran’s bold attempts to assassinate dissidents and enemies abroad. Brodsky says that for Iran, the potential rewards associated with assassinating a top US official far outweigh the risks, partially due to the lack of perceived consequences from the US.

“On the policy level toward the Iranian regime, the US is saying there will be severe consequences when there is an attack on US officials. What about an attempted attack? This was an attempted attack on a former US national security adviser and secretary of state. That’s explosive,” he said.

“So if there isn’t a consequence when there’s an attempted attack, it’s not going to break the cycle and change the Iranians’ calculation.”

Looking to the future, Al-Sulami said, “The Iranian political system will continue targeting other countries in the region and beyond, as well as officials from the US and Saudi Arabia in particular, unless the political and security negotiations, and engagements with Tehran, address this belligerent and terrorist behavior.

“If not, Iran will continue with its policy of assassinations targeting US and Arab officials.”

 

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Palestinian activists turn to TikTok amid Israeli anger over ‘propaganda videos’

Palestinian activists turn to TikTok amid Israeli anger over ‘propaganda videos’
Updated 16 sec ago

Palestinian activists turn to TikTok amid Israeli anger over ‘propaganda videos’

Palestinian activists turn to TikTok amid Israeli anger over ‘propaganda videos’
  • After Facebook, Instagram clamp down on content, Chinese-owned platform sees user surge

RAMALLAH: Palestinian activists are turning to TikTok to rally against activities by Israel, which accused the social media platform of igniting the security situation in the Middle East in recent weeks.

Israel had successfully pushed Meta to block thousands of Palestinian accounts and content from its social media platforms, such as Facebook and Instagram, in addition to limiting Palestinian content through Twitter and Snapchat. However, TikTok, owned by Chinese company ByteDance, has rejected the Israeli allegations and refused to change its policies.

Thousands of Palestinian social media activists switched to TikTok during the past few weeks to enjoy online freedom and bypass Facebook’s restrictions.

Amer Hamdan, a Palestinian political activist, told Arab News that he recently switched from Facebook to Tiktok after suffering from restrictions imposed by the former, which he said flags the use of words including martyr, resistance and occupation.

Hamdan, who had 200,000 followers on his Facebook page, added that his account was closed because he published a picture of Khalil Al-Wazir, the Palestinian leader who Israel assassinated in Tunisia in 1988.

“Because Facebook is no longer the ideal platform for the Palestinians to spread their cause, the alternative is TikTok, which provides an adequate and sufficient space for the dissemination of media covering armed parades of Palestinian military groups and pictures of Palestinian resistance fighters with their weapons,” said Hamdan.

TikTok previously ranked third in Palestine — after Facebook and Instagram — in social media app usage. However, it jumped to second place during recent weeks, with Palestinian social media experts telling Arab News that though 3 million Palestinian accounts are on Facebook, more than 1 million Palestinians are on TikTok, with the number rapidly increasing.

Palestinian activists also see more technical flexibility while publishing on Tiktok compared to Facebook, with the platform allowing three-minute clips for all users, and 15-minute videos for users who have 1,000 followers or more.

“Within a year, TikTok will be the number one social media platform used by Palestinians,” Hamdan said.

Sam Bahour, an expert in business development affairs, said that social media is gaining “exceptional importance” for Palestinians by enabling them to communicate and bypass Israeli restrictions across the West Bank, Gaza Strip, as well worldwide through the diaspora.

Ahmed Al-Qadi, from a center that specializes in researching social media activities, told Arab News that after the violent events in the Palestinian territories last May and after Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and YouTube removed Palestinian content, people switched to TikTok.

On the other hand, Israeli political analyst Yoni Ben-Menachem told Arab News that TikTok is a “tool of dangerous influence” and incites violence through videos glorifying attacks against Israelis.

Ben-Menachem added that TikTok content targets young people, who are particularly vulnerable to misinformation and propaganda.

Last May, Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz met with senior officials from ByteDance, demanding that the company block Palestinian content. But Gantz’s appeal was denied, with the company only promising to pay more attention to published content.

Young Palestinians have filmed Israeli incursions into Palestinian cities and towns, house demolitions, arrests, killings, settler attacks and racist treatment, with the content going viral on TikTok.

Despite the Israeli government’s anger, officials do not expect TikTok to take any action against Palestinian accounts, whether based in the West Bank and Gaza Strip or abroad.

“Maybe TikTok will close a few Palestinian accounts, but thousands of accounts that incite against Israel will remain active, and whoever loses his account can open a new account under a pseudonym,” said Ben-Menachem, adding: “TikTok has become the most dangerous means of incitement against Israel.”


International community urges Yemeni parties to renew truce

International community urges Yemeni parties to renew truce
Updated 3 min 17 sec ago

International community urges Yemeni parties to renew truce

International community urges Yemeni parties to renew truce
  • Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit on Sunday urged the Houthis to “positively” comply with initiatives and efforts to renew the truce
  • Rashad Al-Alimi, president of Yemen’s Presidential Leadership Council, expressed his government’s support for the UN Yemen envoy’s efforts to extend the truce

AL-MUKALLA: A six-month-old UN-brokered ceasefire in Yemen’s war between Iran-backed Houthis and the Arab coalition ended on Sunday with no word from the rivals on whether it would be extended.

The US, UK, China, other world powers and the secretary-general of the Arab League have all urged Yemen’s government and the Iran-backed Houthis to extend the UN-brokered truce.

Despite mounting pressure, only the Yemeni government had earlier agreed to extend the truce.

The US ambassador to Yemen, Steven H. Fagin, expressed concern about the various Yemeni parties’ hesitation to express their support for extending the truce.

“I call on the parties not to squander the progress of the last six months and to prioritize the Yemeni people by accepting an extension and expansion of the truce,” Fagin said in a brief statement. 

On Sunday, the UK Ambassador to Yemen Richard Oppenheim reissued the same call to the Houthis and other Yemeni parties to follow the UN envoy’s suggestions for extending the truce.

“I encourage the Houthis to work with the UN to extend the Truce. It’s the only route that will provide an opportunity for them to deliver benefits for ordinary Yemenis” he said on Twitter. 

The UN-brokered truce, which began on April 2 and has been extended twice, has dramatically reduced violence in Yemen, allowed flights to leave Sanaa airport, and eliminated fuel shortages throughout the country by allowing dozens of fuel ships to reach the port of Hodeidah.

The only term of the truce that has not been implemented is the opening of roads in besieged Taiz, as the Houthis have refused to open at least one main road leading into and out of the city, which is the main demand of the Yemeni government.

As the UN Yemen envoy, Hans Grundberg, shuttled between Muscat, Riyadh, and Sanaa to persuade Yemeni leaders to renew the truce, foreign diplomats and humanitarian organizations in Yemen sent last-minute appeals to both sides on Sunday.

“China emphasizes its support for the special envoy and is willing to make unremitting efforts with the international community to resolve the Yemen issue,” the Chinese Embassy in Yemen said in a statement. 

The EU’s mission in Yemen also demanded that the Yemeni government and the Houthis accept the UN envoy’s proposal, renew the truce, and implement its provisions.

“Time to consolidate and develop a truce, including opening roads and agreeing on the payment of salaries, that has delivered and can bring more benefits to the #Yemeni people,” the mission said in a statement on Twitter.

Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit on Sunday urged the Houthis to “positively” comply with initiatives and efforts to renew the truce and work to alleviate suffering.

The latest UN proposal includes a six-month cease-fire while the Houthis open only minor roads in Taiz, paying public employees in their territories, while the Yemeni government covers any shortfall in payments, allowing more fuel ships to enter Hodeidah port, and opening new routes from Sanaa to Muscat, Doha, and Mumbai. 

Rashad Al-Alimi, president of Yemen’s Presidential Leadership Council, expressed his government’s support for the UN Yemen envoy’s efforts to extend the truce.

During a meeting with the UN envoy in Riyadh on Sunday, the Yemeni leader stated that he is committed to supporting any peace initiative to end the war in Yemen and alleviate the suffering of Yemenis, and he urged mounting pressure on the Houthis and their Iranian backers to stop undermining peace efforts.

In Sanaa, the Houthis rejected calls to renew the truce on Saturday night, threatening to resume military operations, including strikes on oil companies in government-controlled areas.


UN Yemen envoy expresses regret after truce expires without being extended

UN Yemen envoy expresses regret after truce expires without being extended
Updated 53 min 49 sec ago

UN Yemen envoy expresses regret after truce expires without being extended

UN Yemen envoy expresses regret after truce expires without being extended
  • The ceasefire has twice been renewed since April. 2 but expired on Sunday without being extended
  • Envoy said the extended and expanded truce would have provided critical benefits to Yemen’s population

RIYADH: The UN Special Envoy for Yemen Hans Grundberg expressed regret on Sunday that an agreement to extend and expand the truce in the country had not been reached.

“The truce that began on April.2, 2022 has offered a truly historic opportunity for Yemen. Building on the positive outcomes of the past six months, I submitted another proposal to the parties on Oct.1 to extend the truce for another six months, with additional elements,” Grundberg said in a statement.

The ceasefire has twice been renewed since April. 2 but expired on Sunday without being extended.

The proposal included the payment of civil servant salaries and pensions, the opening of specific roads in Taiz and other governorates, additional destinations for flights to and from Sanaa airport, unhindered entry of fuel ships into Hodeidah port, strengthening deescalation mechanisms, and a commitment to urgently release detainees, the envoy said.

It also included the initiation of negotiations for a ceasefire, the resumption of an inclusive political process, and economic issues.

The envoy said that the extended and expanded truce would provide additional critical benefits to Yemen’s population.

He thanked the Yemeni government for engaging positively with his proposal and said he will continue to work with both sides to find solutions.

“I am grateful for the constructive engagement at the leadership level from both sides over the past weeks. And I appreciate the position of the government of Yemen on engaging positively with my proposal. I will continue to work with both sides to try and find solutions,” Grundberg said.

The envoy urged the parties to maintain calm and refrain from provocations or any actions that could lead to an escalation of violence in the war-torn country.

“I urge them to fulfil their obligation to the Yemeni people to pursue every avenue for peace. Ultimately, Yemenis need an end to the conflict through an inclusive political process and a negotiated settlement. I will continue my relentless efforts to engage with the parties to quickly reach an agreement on a way forward,” he said.


King Abdullah II to make official visit to Oman

King Abdullah II to make official visit to Oman
Updated 02 October 2022

King Abdullah II to make official visit to Oman

King Abdullah II to make official visit to Oman
  • Jordan’s King Abdullah II and Sultan Haitham bin Tarik will meet in Muscat

AMMAN: Jordan’s King Abdullah II, accompanied by Queen Rania and Crown Prince Hussein bin Abdullah, will arrive in Oman on Tuesday for an official visit.

The king’s trip comes after an invitation from Sultan Haitham bin Tarik, Jordan News Agency reported.

During the two day visit, the two leaders will hold talks in Muscat about their deep bilateral ties as well as the most recent regional and international developments.

 


Jordan, Qatar discuss security cooperation

Jordan, Qatar discuss security cooperation
Updated 45 min 29 sec ago

Jordan, Qatar discuss security cooperation

Jordan, Qatar discuss security cooperation
  • Jordanian official noted its keenness to support Qatar during the World Cup

AMMAN: Jordan’s Director of the Public Security Directorate and the Qatari Ambassador to Jordan met on Sunday to discuss strengthening security and police cooperation, particularly in training, Petra News Agency reported.

Brig Gen Obaidullah Maaytah spoke with Sheikh Saud Bin Nasser Al-Thani about Jordan’s deep ties with Qatar, noting that the PSD was eager to support Qatar during the World Cup.

In turn, Al-Thani praised the PSD and emphasized the level of cooperation between Jordanian and Qatari police, urging continued efforts to expand bilateral cooperation.