WASHINGTON (AP) -- An Iranian operative has been charged in a plot to murder former U.S. national security adviser John Bolton in presumed retaliation for a U.S. airstrike that killed the country's most powerful general, offering $300,000 to "eliminate" the Trump administration official, the Justice Department said Wednesday.
Shahram Poursafi, identified by U.S. officials as a member of Iran's paramilitary Revolutionary Guard, is currently wanted by the FBI on charges related to the murder-for-hire plot.
Prosecutors say the scheme unfolded more than a year after Qassem Soleimani, the head of the Revolutionary Guard's elite Quds Force and an architect of Tehran's proxy wars in the Middle East, was killed in a targeted airstrike as he traveled from Baghdad's international airport in January 2020. After the strike, Bolton, who by then had left his White House post, tweeted, "Hope this is the first step to regime change in Tehran."
The FBI believes that Poursafi was acting on behalf of the Revolutionary Guard when he sought to have Bolton killed, according to an affidavit unsealed Wednesday. Law enforcement officials located photographs of Poursafi in fatigues and with posters of Iran and Soleimani in the background to back up their allegation that he is a uniformed Revolutionary Guard member.
The Justice Department traces the plot to the fall of 2021, when Poursafi, 45, an Iranian citizen who officials say has never visited the United States, asked an unidentified person he met through social media and who was living in the U.S. to take photographs of Bolton for a book he said he was writing.
The person introduced Poursafi to an associate that could take the requested photos and videos. After the two connected, Poursafi encouraged that person, who was actually a confidential source working with the FBI, to hire someone to kill Bolton and offered to pay $300,000 for the job. Poursafi told the person that he wanted "the guy" to be purged or eliminated.
Poursafi provided the person with Bolton's office address, including the name and contact information for someone who worked in the office, the FBI affidavit says.
"This was not an idle threat," Assistant Attorney General Matthew Olsen, the Justice Department's top national security official, said in a statement released by the department. "And this is not the first time we've uncovered brazen acts by Iran to exact revenge against individuals in the U.S."
In 2011, for instance, the FBI and Justice Department revealed an Iranian government plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the U.S. while the ambassador was in the U.S.
A spokesman for Iran's foreign ministry, Nasser Kanaani, called the latest accusations baseless and politically motivated, state-run media reported.
He said Iran "reserves the right to take any action within the framework of international law to defend the rights of the government and citizens of the Islamic Republic of Iran."
In his own statement, Bolton thanked the FBI and Justice Department for their work in developing the case and the Secret Service for providing protection.
"While much cannot be said publicly right now, one point is indisputable: Iran's rulers are liars, terrorists, and enemies of the United States," he said.
The unsealing of the complaint comes two days after negotiators seeking to revive the Iran nuclear accord in Vienna closed on a "final text" of an agreement, with parties now consulting in their capitals on whether to agree to it it.
The 2015 deal granted Iran sanctions relief in exchange for tight curbs on its atomic program. Since the U.S. withdrew from the agreement under President Donald Trump, Iran has sped up its nuclear enrichment program. Bolton has been among the most hawkish critics of the deal and efforts by the Biden administration to rejoin it.
In his statement, Bolton said "Iran's nuclear-weapons and terrorist activities are two sides of the same coin" and asserted that America re-entering the 2015 deal would be an "unparalleled self-inflicted wound, to ourselves and our closest Middle East allies."
The Justice Department described Poursafi as at-large abroad but did not elaborate on where he might be located. It is not clear when or if he will be taken into custody. He faces charges of using interstate commerce facilities in the commission of murder-for-hire and attempting to provide transnational support to a murder plot.
The Revolutionary Guard is a paramilitary organization formed in the wake of Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution to defend its clerically overseen government. The Quds Force is the Guard's expeditionary unit, responsible for operations abroad.
Soleimani was the head of that force, and the Defense Department said at the time of the January 2020 strike that it killed him because he "was actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region."