The Justice Department announced Wednesday it charged a member of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in connection with an assassination plot against former National Security Advisor John Bolton.
Shahram Poursafi, 45, is accused of orchestrating a $300,000 murder-for-hire plot against Bolton in Washington or Maryland. Poursafi, who also goes by an alias of Mehdi Rezayi, remains at large abroad, according to the Justice Department.
If found and convicted, Poursafi would face up to 10 years imprisonment and a fine up to $250,000 for the use of interstate commerce facilities in the commission of the assassination plan, and up to 15 years imprisonment and a fine up to $250,000 for providing and attempting to provide material support to a transnational murder plot.
“The Justice Department has the solemn duty to defend our citizens from hostile governments who seek to hurt or kill them,” said Assistant Attorney General Matthew Olsen, who runs the Justice Department’s National Security Division. “This is not the first time we have uncovered Iranian plots to exact revenge against individuals on U.S. soil and we will work tirelessly to expose and disrupt every one of these efforts.”
Justice Department officials allege Poursafi sought to kill Bolton in retaliation for the fatal U.S. drone strike against Qasem Soleimani, a top Iranian military commander of Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), in Baghdad on Jan. 3, 2020. Soleimani, an IRGC major general who reported directly to Iran’s supreme theocratic ruler, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, helped build, organize, fund and deploy constellations of Shi’ite militias mounting insurgencies in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen. At the time of Soleimani’s death, Khamenei promised vengeance. “The criminals who have the blood of General Soleimani and other martyrs of the attack on their hands must await a tough revenge,” he said on the day of the strike.
Bolton was no longer President Donald Trump’s national security advisor at the time—he left the post three months earlier over policy disagreements—but he was a key architect of the administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign aimed at coercing Iran into reining in its missile programs and forcing Tehran to halt support for proxy forces throughout the Middle East.
Bolton, who has worked for every Republican President since Reagan, is a lifelong hawk who for years has advocated military action against Iran. During his 17 months in the Trump Administration, he was unequivocal in his opinion that diplomacy with Tehran was a waste of time and repeatedly excoriated the nation’s leadership. He reiterated those views in a statement Wednesday after the Justice Department unsealed the charges against Poursafi. “While much cannot be said publicly right now, one point is indisputable: Iran’s rulers are liars, terrorists, and enemies of the United States,” Bolton said. “Their radical, anti-American objectives are unchanged; their commitments are worthless; and their global threat is growing.”
The assassination plot
According to court documents, the assassination plot began on Oct. 22, 2021, when Poursafi asked a U.S. resident whom Poursafi previously met online, identified only as “Individual A,” to take photographs of Bolton.
Poursafi allegedly claimed he needed the photos for a book he was writing. Individual A offered instead to introduce Poursafi to another person who would take the pictures for between $5,000 and $10,000. Individual A introduced Poursafi to a “confidential human source,” or informant, which set off a conversation via an encrypted messaging application, the court documents say.
The U.S. government alleges that in November 2021, Poursafi offered the informant $250,000 to hire someone to “eliminate” Bolton. The amount would later be negotiated up to $300,000 with Poursafi allegedly saying he had an additional “job,” for which he would pay $1 million.
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According to court documents, Poursafi instructed the informant to open a cryptocurrency account to facilitate payment but said the murder must be carried out before any payment was authorized. Poursafi also allegedly made clear his “group” would be angry if the assassination attempt didn’t take place. The Justice Department said searches of Poursafi’s “online accounts” revealed pictures of him wearing a military uniform with an IRGC patch.
On Nov. 14, 2021, Poursafi allegedly provided the informant with Bolton’s work address in Washington. Five days later, Poursafi told the informant that it did not matter how Bolton was killed, but that his “group” needed video footage to confirm Bolton’s death, court documents said. Poursafi allegedly asked the informant to talk about the murder plot in a code, using construction and building terms. The Justice Department said Poursafi told the informant that he only asked the informant “to build a structure,” but the method of construction was up to the informant.
Poursafi appeared to be directing the plot from Iran’s capital. “According to results from the search of one of Poursafi’s online accounts, on Nov. 25, 2021, Poursafi took screenshots of a map application showing a street view of the former National Security Advisor’s office. One screenshot noted that the address was ‘10,162 km away,’ which is the approximate distance between Washington, D.C. and Tehran, Iran,” the Justice Department said.
On Dec. 22, 2021, Poursafi allegedly sent the informant a photograph of two plastic bags, filled with stacks of money and a handwritten note beneath them that said the date and the informant’s name. A week later, Poursafi asked the informant when the murder would take place and that his “group” wanted it done quickly, the Justice Department said.
On Jan. 3, 2022, Poursafi allegedly told the informant he was under pressure from “his people” to complete the murder and he needed to report any delays. Poursafi also told the informant that he reported to one person, but there was a chain of command above him, court documents said. That same day, the Justice Department said, Poursafi expressed regret that the murder could not be carried by the two-year anniversary of Soleimani’s death. The court documents said Poursafi told the informant to get close to Bolton if a “small weapon,” was used, but further away if a “larger weapon,” was wielded.
For the next two months, Poursafi told the informant about Bolton’s suspected locations and pleaded to “finish the job,” the court document said. On April 28, the informant told Poursafi that he or she would not continue to work without being paid and Poursafi allegedly agreed to send $100 in cryptocurrency to the informant’s virtual wallet. Later that day, the U.S. government alleges, the cryptocurrency wallet received two payments totaling $100.
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