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DOJ charges Iranian soldier for John Bolton assassination plot

John Bolton speaking at the 2013 International Students for Liberty Conference in Washington, D.C. (Gage Skidmore/Flickr)
August 10, 2022

The U.S. Department of Justice charged a member of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) on Wednesday with plotting to assassinate former U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton inside the U.S.

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The DOJ announced charges on Wednesday against Shahram Poursafi, who also goes by Mehdi Rezayi, 45, of Tehran, Iran. According to charging documents, Poursafi is a uniformed IRGC member.

Poursafi is accused of having attempted to arrange for Bolton’s murder in retaliation for the January 2020 U.S. strike that killed IRGC Quds Force Gen. Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad, Iraq. President Donald Trump had ordered the strike.

Bolton had served as Trump’s national security adviser and is widely regarded as having been hawkish towards Iran. Bolton, however, had left the administration in September 2019, nearly four full months before the strike on Soleimani.

Beginning in October 2021, Poursafi allegedly attempted to pay an individual in the U.S. $300,000 to murder Bolton in Washington D.C. or Maryland. According to an affidavit, Poursafi’s efforts to get someone to assassinate Bolton continued through April of this year.

The plot was reportedly uncovered after an individual Poursafi had contacted (known as Individual A), connected Poursafi with another individual who was acting as a confidential human source (CHS) for the U.S. Poursafi hired the CHS to take photos and videos of his target, Bolton.

Poursafi eventually asked the CHS if he could hire someone to “eliminate someone” for $200,000 and then later $250,000. Poursafi allegedly mentioned he had a second job for $1 million.

Poursafi allegedly said his group did not need credit for killing Bolton, but told the CHS that he would need video confirmation of the killing either by video from the CHS or news coverage.

According to the affidavit, Poursafi also warned the CHS that he did not want any payments he made to be traced back to him. He told the CHS to send him a link to a digital currency wallet. Once he got the wallet link, Poursafi told the CHS to delete any mention of the wallet from their messages.

In January, the CHS told Poursafi he had traveled to D.C. but was unable to carry out the killing. On or about Feb. 1, Poursafi told the CHS that if he or she didn’t complete the killing, he would give the job to someone else.

After weeks of additional back and forth, Poursafi allegedly told the CHS on April 28 that the CHS had six days to finish the job.

The DOJ’s revelations about the timeline of Poursafi’s communications with the CHS match up with public U.S. government warnings about Iranian efforts to assassinate certain former members of the Trump administration. In testimony on April 26, Secretary of State Antony Blinken told Congress that Iran’s assassination plans are “ongoing.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney General Matthew Olson said, “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.”

Other reported targets of Iranian assassination efforts have included former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

While the U.S. does not have Poursafi in custody, the DOJ is still charging him with “Providing and attempting to provide material support to a transnational murder plot” and “use of interstate commerce facilities in the commission of murder for hire.”

Bolton provided the following statement after the DOJ announcement Wednesday:

I wish to thank the Justice Department for initiating the criminal proceeding unsealed today; the FBI for its diligence in discovering and tracking the Iranian regime’s criminal threat to American citizens; and the Secret Service for once again providing protection against Tehran’s efforts.

While much cannot be said publicly right now, one point is indisputable: Iran’s rulers are liars, terrorists, and enemies of the United States. Their radical, anti-American objectives are unchanged; their commitments are worthess; and their global threat is growing.

Iran’s nuclear-weapons and terrorist activities are two sides of the same coin. No responsible U.S. government should think otherwise. America re-entering the failed 2015 Iran nuclear deal would be an unparalleled self-inflicted wound, to ourselves and our closest Middle East allies. I remain committed to making sure it does not happen.