A member of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) has been accused of offering $300,000 to assassinate former National Security Adviser John Bolton, the Department of Justice announced Wednesday.
Shahram Poursafi, 45, was charged with providing and attempting to provide material support for a transnational murder plot, as well as using interstate commerce facilities to commit murder-for-hire. He remains at large.
Prosecutors say that beginning in October 2021, the 45-year-old attempted to arrange the murder of Bolton on behalf of the IRGC. “likely” in retaliation for the US killing of IRGC commander Qassem Soleimani in a January 2020 airstrike at Baghdad’s international airport.
Bolton resigned from the Trump administration in September 2019, but had praised the operation that killed Soleimani, tweeting at the time that he hoped “this is the first step to regime change in Tehran.”
“I wish to thank the Justice Dept 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 providing protection against Tehran’s efforts,” Bolton said in a statement shortly after Poursafi’s indictment was unsealed.
“While much cannot be said publicly right now, one point is indisuputable: Iran’s rulers are liars, terrorist, and enemies of the United States. Their radical, anti-American objectives are unchanged, their commitments are worthless; and their global threat is growing,” he continued.
Bolton then took the opportunity to blast the Biden administration’s insistence on re-entering the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, saying it would be “an unparalleled self-inflicted wound.”
“Iran’s nuclear-weapons and terrorist activities are two sides of the same coin,” he said. “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.”
While attempting to coordinate Bolton’s murder, Poursafi communicated with a “confidential human source” (CHS) and provided a Washington work address related to the former national security official, as well as proof of funds for the hit, per the DOJ.
On Nov. 19, 2021, the Iranian allegedly told an associate in the US that it did not matter how the murder of Bolton was carried out, but his “group” needed video confirmation of the death.
Over the next few weeks, Poursafi repeatedly told the CHS that his “group” wanted the operation carried out quickly and that he was under pressure from “his people.”
On Jan. 3, 2022, Poursafi allegedly mentioned that he regretted Bolton’s murder would not be conducted by the anniversary of Soleimani’s death.
In February, Poursafi pressed the CHS to kill Bolton within two weeks, threatening to take away the job. However, he informed the CHS the following month that he had a separate assassination job in the US and instructed him to “keep Behnam [his code name for Bolton] in the back of your mind.”
Ultimately, the CHS told the Iranian on April 28 they would not continue to work on the plot without being paid. According to the DOJ, Poursafi then agreed to send the CHS $100 in cryptocurrency to a virtual wallet. Two payments amounting to $100 were received later that day.
“The Justice Department has the solemn duty to defend our citizens from hostile governments who seek to hurt or kill them,” Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen of the DOJ’s National Security Division said in a statement, revealing it was not the first time the department has uncovered Iranian revenge plots.
In March 2021, an Associated Press report — citing senior intelligence officials — revealed the National Security Agency had intercepted communications indicating the IRGC was discussing killing Gen. Joseph M. Martin, then the Army’s vice chief of staff, to avenge Soleimani.
The attempted assassination of John Bolton was likely in retaliation for the US killing of IRGC commander Qassem Soleimani.
Current National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan commended the “diligence and professionalism” of the DOJ and FBI in a statement Wednesday.
“We have said this before and we will say it again: the Biden Administration will not waiver in protecting and defending all Americans against threats of violence and terrorism,” Sullivan said. “Should Iran attack any of our citizens, to include those who continue to serve the United States or those who formerly served, Iran will face severe consequences. We will continue to bring to bear the full resources of the U.S. Government to protect Americans.”
If convicted, Poursafi faces up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 for the charge related to the use of interstate commerce facilities in a murder-for-hire operation, as well as up to 15 years in prison and an additional fine of up to $250,000 attempting to provide support for a transnational murder plot.