A US Justice Department criminal complaint and charge sheet unsealed in early August 2022 unveiled an Iranian-backed criminal network that planned to sabotage US homeland security. The network plotted to assassinate former US officials in retaliation for a US strike that killed the Quds Force Commander Qassem Soleimani in Iraq in early 2020. The Quds Force had been designated as a terrorist group by the United States because of its involvement in the death of US personnel working in Iraq.
The US Justice Department announced that the FBI was looking for an Iranian by the name of Shahram Poursafi, 45 years of age, of Tehran, for plotting to assassinate former US National Security Adviser John Bolton.
Bolton played a key role in the US decision to withdraw from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal in May 2018, but later resigned from Trump’s administration to avoid being fired in September 2019. This resignation came long before Soleimani’s killing. But in July 2022, Iran condemned Bolton’s confession of attempting to plan coups in other countries. Earlier in 2018, Bolton warned Iran that the United States “will come after you” when demanding Tehran’s change of behavior to slow down its nuclear program and terror operations.
Poursafi, who also goes by the name of Mehdi Rezayi, according to US sources is a member of Iran’s IRGC under which the Quds Force operates. He was in Iran when the plot to kill Bolton was unveiled, but allegedly attempted to pay $300,000 to individuals in the United States back in November 2021 to carry out the assassination in Washington DC or in Maryland.
One individual Poursafi met online was asked to take pictures of Bolton for a book project, before he would be put into contact with a second individual who would carry out the assassination. Poursafi is dismissed by the United States as an amateur terrorist incapable of even observing the basic principles of a spying operation as he identified himself to his contacts. Reports indicate that the individual he contacted in the United States was an FBI operative, which enabled the agency to watch the operation unfold over several months.
Although, Iran dismissed involvement in the assassination plot, Iranian news websites did confirm that the United States claimed that an assassination plot against Bolton was uncovered involving an Iranian citizen named Mehdi Rezayi, but did not offer further details. Iran’s Foreign Ministry warned the United States against taking any action against Iranian citizens on the pretext of unfounded charges. It also called the allegation “story telling” that lacked credible evidence and labeled Bolton a “bankrupt element,” implying that he was of no significance to Iran.
Evidence also emerged in August that Iran reportedly offered a bounty of $1 million for the assassination of former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Pompeo was informed by the US Justice Department in August that he was the second target in an Iranian-led transnational murder plot. Previously, the US Government National Counterterrorism Center issued a warning that Iran planned “hard revenge” against former US President Donald Trump, former CENTCOM Commander General Kenneth McKenzie, and former US State Department Iran Envoy Brian Hook.
According to Bolton, the latest one-man led plot carried out in mid-August to kill author Salman Rushdie on US soil had a “Revolutionary Guard” component, in reference to the IRGC. The author was stabbed multiple times onstage in a public gathering in upstate New York, and his attacker Hadi Matar unrepentantly revealed signs of allegiance to Iran’s religious leaders, having first been brainwashed on a trip to Lebanon in 2018.
Iran’s “hardline” newspapers publicly praised the plot to kill Rushdie, while Tehran blamed the author and his supporters for the stabbing. The author was on an Iranian death list for publishing his book The Satanic Verses in 1988, after the then Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa calling for his assassination. Current Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei called the fatwairrevocable in 2019.
Not surprisingly, Bolton criticized the Biden administration for staying quiet regarding the plot to assassinate him. The US Justice Department informed him of the assassination plot long before making it public. Bolton also happens to think that negotiating with Iran will encourage its terrorist activities, and will signal US weakness when more hawkish policies are needed to change Tehran’s behavior.
Biden’s efforts to revive the Iranian nuclear deal aims to ease tensions with Tehran, but it offers no guarantees that Iranian belligerency toward the United States will subside. More importantly, Iran is increasingly behaving like a hostile state, aiming to create fear and to force Washington to revive the nuclear deal.
Consequently, more Republican members of Congress are pushing forward measures to prevent the revival of the nuclear deal and halt Iran’s nuclear program. This approach they think might be sound because they believe current Iranian hostility stems from Tehran’s weakness and not strength.