A grand jury in New York has indicted two Iranian men in an alleged plot to get Mexican gangsters to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to Washington, court papers showed Thursday.
The indictment was the next stage in the legal process after the initial complaint against Manssor Arbabsiar, who is in custody, and co-defendant Gholam Shakuri, who is at large.
Iran has strongly denied any involvement in what the US says was a plot by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards' elite Quds force to kill the ambassador by hiring assassins from a Mexican drug cartel for $1.5 million.
The federal prosecutor's office in Manhattan said that Arbabsiar would be arraigned in court on Monday, when he is expected to enter a plea.
According to the indictment, he and Shakuri conspired to "kill the Ambassador to the United States of Saudi Arabia, while the Ambassador was in the United States."
To set up the alleged hit, Arbabsiar allegedly arranged for the wiring of $100,000 to the United States as a down payment, the indictment says.
The two co-defendants are also accused of planning for a "weapon of mass destruction" to be used against the ambassador, creating "substantial risk of serious bodily injury to others by destroying and damaging structures."
The charges have caused another flare up in tensions between the United States and Iran, already at loggerheads over Washington's belief that Tehran is using a civilian nuclear program to mask a bomb-making project.
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Earlier Thursday, Iran's spy chief mocked the accusations, state-run television reported.
Intelligence Minister Heydar Moslehi, who heads up Iran's espionage organizations, said the US allegations were "too cheap to believe."
His point-by-point rebuttal of the US claims added to strenuous denials from other Iranian officials that Tehran had anything to do with the affair.
"When you look at it from an intelligence standpoint, there are too many contradictions to believe that a government such as the United States could compile such a cheap claim and expect to it to be credible," he said.
"The initial reaction to this claim by our intelligence officers was genuine surprise at the abundance of stupidity evident in this scenario," he said.
Moslehi ridiculed US allegations that Arbabsiar held unsecure discussions on the telephone with Iranian officials about the plot.
According to the US Justice Department and the FBI, Arbabsiar confessed after his arrest to trying to contract a Mexican drug cartel to assassinate the Saudi enjoy, Adel al-Jubeir, possibly through the bombing of a Washington restaurant.
He allegedly said he organized the hit on behalf of his cousin, whom he described as a high-ranking officer in the Quds Force, a shadowy special operations unit of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards.
US officials said they became aware of the plot because Arbabsiar's contact in the cartel was in fact a paid FBI informant.