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US accuses Iranian national of plotting to assassinate John Bolton

Justice Department says the plot was likely intended as retaliation for the US killing of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani
Former White House national security advisor John Bolton is a leading critic of Iran (AFP/File photo)

The US has accused a member of Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps of plotting to assassinate former Trump national security advisor John Bolton, according to court documents unsealed Wednesday.

The Justice Department said 45-year-old Shahram Poursafi, also known as Mehdi Rezayi, had offered to pay an individual in the United States $300,000 to kill Bolton. 

The Justice Department said the plan was likely set in retaliation for the US killing of top Guard commander Qassem Soleimani in Iraq in January 2020.

"This is not the first time we have uncovered Iranian plots to exact revenge against individuals on US soil, and we will work tirelessly to expose and disrupt every one of these efforts," said Matthew Olsen, US assistant attorney general.

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According to the charges, Poursafi tried to arrange Bolton's murder beginning in October 2021, when he contacted online an unidentified person in the United States, first saying he wanted to commission photographs of Bolton. 

That person passed the Iranian onto another contact, whom Poursafi then asked to kill Bolton. He offered $250,000, which was then negotiated up to $300,000.

"Poursafi added that he had an additional 'job,' for which he would pay $1 million," the Justice Department said. 

But that second person, court documents say, was a confidential source for the US Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The ostensible assassin stalled, waiting for an initial payment, but only in late April did Poursafi send money, paying a total of $100 in cryptocurrency.

Poursafi was charged with the use of interstate commerce facilities in the commission of murder-for-hire, which brings up to 10 years in prison, and with providing and attempting to provide material support to a transnational murder plot, which carries a 15-year sentence.

'Our martyr's revenge'

Bolton is a leading critic of Iran and has called for the US to bomb the country in order to prevent Tehran from obtaining nuclear weapons.

He served as national security advisor in the White House of then President Donald Trump from April 2018 to September 2019, and before that as ambassador to the United Nations from 2005-2006 in the administration of President George Bush. 

The court documents indicated Bolton was aware of the plot and cooperated with investigators, allowing photographs of himself outside his Washington office to be sent to Poursafi. 

Over the months Poursafi discussed the plot with his US contact, he disclosed that it was related to Tehran's desire for revenge for the US killing of Soleimani.

Soleimani was head of Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps' Quds Force, the powerful foreign arm of the IRGC, which has spearheaded its activities in hotspots like Syria, Yemen and Iraq.

He was targeted by a US drone strike just after he landed at Baghdad's airport on 7 January 2020.

Since that strike, Tehran has repeatedly vowed to exact revenge, and US officials have said that the country had been looking to kill one or more US officials.

In January, Iran’s supreme leader released an animated video on his official website depicting the assassination of former Trump in a targeted drone strike.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi has said Trump must face trial for the killing, or Tehran would take revenge.

"If Trump and Pompeo are not tried in a fair court for the criminal act of assassinating General Soleimani, Muslims will take our martyr's revenge," Raisi said in a speech at the beginning of this year.

US officials believe Mike Pompeo, who was secretary of state at the time of the assassination of Soleimani, and before that the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, is also on the list of Iranian assassination targets.

At the time, Pompeo said Soleimani had been plotting large-scale attacks on US targets such as embassies.

In a statement, Bolton thanked the Justice Department and FBI and blasted Iran's government as "liars, terrorists and enemies of the United States".