WASHINGTON: The United States charged a member of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guard Corps on Wednesday (Aug 10) with plotting to murder John Bolton, a national security adviser to former President Donald Trump.
The Justice Department alleged that Shahram Poursafi, also known as Mehdi Rezayi, 45, of Tehran, was likely motivated to kill Bolton in retaliation for the death of Qassem Soleimani, a commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps killed in a US drone strike in January 2020.
Iran's mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Iran does not have an extradition treaty with the United States, and Poursafi remains at large. The FBI on Wednesday released a most-wanted poster.
Washington does not believe the charges should affect talks with Tehran on reviving the 2015 nuclear deal under which Iran curbed its nuclear programme in return for sanctions relief, a US official said on condition of anonymity.
However, it was not clear how the IRGC, a powerful political faction in Iran which controls a business empire as well as elite armed and intelligence forces that Washington accuses of a global terrorist campaign, might react to the charges.
Indirect talks between the United States and Iran wrapped up in Vienna on Monday with European Union officials saying they had put forward a final text to resuscitate the nuclear deal, which Trump abandoned in 2018.
According to the criminal complaint, Poursafi asked a US resident identified only as "Individual A" to photograph Bolton, under the guise that the photos were needed for a forthcoming book. The US resident then introduced Poursafi to a covert government informant who could take the photographs for a price.
Investigators said the following month Poursafi contacted the informant on an encrypted messaging application and offered the person US$250,000 to hire someone to "eliminate" Bolton - an amount that would later be negotiated up to US$300,000.
When the informant asked Poursafi to be more specific in his request, he said he wanted "the guy" purged and provided Bolton's first and last name, according to a sworn statement in support of the complaint.
He later directed the informant to open a cryptocurrency account to facilitate the payment. In subsequent communications, he allegedly told the informant it did not matter how the killing was carried out, but that his "group" would require a video as proof that the deed was done.
In a statement on Twitter on Wednesday, Bolton thanked the Justice Department for taking action.
"While much cannot be said publicly right now, one point is indisputable," he said. "Iran's rulers are liars, terrorists and enemies of the United States."