Arbabsiar claimed to be acting on the behalf of his cousin, a “big general” in the Iranian army, in arranging for a meetings during several trips to Mexico in 2011. Arbabsiar believed that he was speaking with a member of the Zetas, one of Mexico’s most feared drug gangs. Instead, he was meeting with an undercover Drug Enforcement Agency agent. In the course of several interactions with this source, Arbabsiar agreed to pay $1.5 million to carry out the assassination, $100,000 of which Arbabsiar wired to an FBI bank account as a down payment.
Arbabsiar was later arrested and agreed to make monitored phone calls to Iran. The speaker on the other end, identified as Gholam Shakuri, told Arbabsiar to move forward with the assassination attempt against the ambassador. Both men were charged with attempting to hire an assassin and plotting to commit terrorism.
Shakuri is a member of the Quds force, the special operations wing of the IRGC, and was charged in absentia. The Department of Justice has stressed that Shakuri remains innocent until proven guilty.
“Though it reads like the pages of a Hollywood script, the impact would have been very real and many lives would have been lost,” FBI Director Mueller said at the time charges were filed last year. Reaction to the plot then ranged from incredulity to relief, with one commentator arguing that the alleged missteps made a feared force in the Middle East look “like a bunch of miscalculating buffoons.”