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Archive for the ‘Mexico’ Category

Plot to kill ambassador unraveled on SW border

In Iran, Mexico, News, Terrorism on October 12, 2011 at 9:43 am

 

This 2004 provided by the Williamson County Jail shows Manssor Arbabsiar. Arbabsiar, a U.S. citizen who used to live in Corpus Christi, and a member of Iran's special foreign actions unit known as the Quds Force were charged in New York federal court Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2011, with conspiring to kill Adel Al-Jubeir, the Saudi ambassador to the U.S. Justice Department officials say the men tried to hire a purported member of a Mexican drug cartel to carry out the assassination with a bomb attack while Al-Jubeir dined at his favorite restaurant. (AP Photo/Williamson County Jail via Corpus Christi Caller-Times) MANDATORY CREDIT

By NEDRA PICKLER, AP

The unraveling of an alleged plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States came from a surprising place — the front lines of the drug war along the Mexican border.

And like a Hollywood thriller, the murder-for-hire tale cuts back and forth across international lines. “This case illustrates we live in a world where borders and boundaries are increasingly irrelevant,” said FBI Director Robert Mueller.

According to a criminal complaint filed in federal court in New York, the plot was revealed by an informant inside the world of the Mexican drug trade, a man paid by U.S. drug agents to rat out traffickers.

The complaint describes the informant as someone who was previously charged for violating drug laws in the United States but got the charges dismissed by agreeing to cooperate with U.S. drug investigations. U.S. officials trusted the informant because he had proved reliable in the past and led to several drug seizures — and the informant was paid for those tips.

In May 2011, the informant allegedly met with a Texas man named Manssor Arbabsiar, a 56-year-old naturalized U.S. citizen who also had an Iranian passport. The complaint doesn’t say how the two were introduced, but Arbabsiar reportedly approached the informant, who he thought was an associate of a drug cartel well known for its violent tactics, to ask about his knowledge of explosives for an attack on a Saudi embassy.

The informant reached out to his contacts in the United States to tell them all about it. Rep. Mike Rogers, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said he was told the informant was “somebody who was in one of the drug cartels, credible, long history, was fully capable of conducting the kind of operation the Iranian was asking for.”

“This guy brought it to us, and from there it was laid out in front of us as they went forward,” the Michigan Republican said.

The complaint said Arbabsiar and the informant met several more times in Mexico over the next few months, with the informant secretly recording their conversations for U.S. authorities. The two spoke English and their discussions became more focused on a specific target for violence — the Saudi ambassador to Washington, Adel al-Jubeir, a U.S.-educated commoner sent to the United States to repair relations after the Sept. 11 attacks who has been ambassador since 2007.

The complaint said Arbabsiar has fully confessed to his role in the operation and said he was recruited, funded and directed by Iran’s special foreign actions unit known as the Quds Force. Arbabsiar said his cousin Abdul Reza Shahlai was a high-ranking member of the Quds Force who approached him this past spring to ask for his cooperation. Arbabsiar said he frequently traveled between the U.S. and Mexico for work and knew people he believed were in the drug trade, and his cousin asked him if he could recruit someone in the narcotics business for criminal activity.

U.S. officials say Shahlai has a violent past — the Bush administration accused him of planning a Jan. 20, 2007, attack in Karbala, Iraq, that killed five American soldiers and wounded three others. This time, according to U.S. officials, Shahlai and other Quds agents approved a plot to pay their Mexican drug contact $1.5 million for the death of the ambassador — making a $100,000 down payment to an account the informant provided.

According to transcripts of their recorded conversations cited in the complaint, the informant told Arbabsiar he would kill the ambassador however he wanted — “blow him up or shoot him” — and Arbabsiar responded he should use whatever method was easiest. The plot eventually centered on targeting Al-Jubeir in his favorite restaurant and Arbabsiar was quoted as saying killing him alone would be better, “but sometime, you know, you have no choice.” Arbabsiar dismisses the possibility that 100-150 others in the restaurant could be killed along with the ambassador as “no problem” and “no big deal.”

Eventually, according to the complaint, the informant told Arbabsiar he must come to Mexico to offer himself as “collateral” for the final payment of the $1.5 million fee for the assassination. Arbabsiar said his cousin’s deputy at the Quds Force — Gholam Shakuri, also charged in the complaint but at large in Iran — warned him against offering himself as a guarantee of payment. But Arbabsiar went anyway, boarding a flight to Mexico on Sept. 28 with plans to fly to Iran after the plot was finished.

Mexican authorities, who say they had been cooperating with U.S. officials in the investigation, denied Arbabsiar entry into the country and he boarded a flight to New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport. Law enforcement officials secretly boarded with him to keep him under surveillance, and he was arrested when he got off the plane in New York.

Arbabsiar agreed to cooperate with U.S. authorities and made several recorded phone calls to Shakuri in which they discussed the purchase of a “Chevrolet,” their agreed-upon code-word for the plot. Shakuri urged Arbabsiar to make sure they “just do it quickly.”

Source Associated Press.

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Death toll rises to 53, families search morgue for missing in northern Mexico casino attack

In Mexico, News on August 26, 2011 at 12:37 pm

Firefighters work to extinguish a fire at the Casino Royale in Monterrey, Mexico, Thursday Aug. 25 2011. Two dozen gunmen burst into the casino in northern Mexico on Thursday, doused it with a flammable liquid and started a fire that trapped gamblers inside, killing more than 28 people and injuring a dozen more, authorities said. (AP Photo/Hans Maximo Musielik) (Hans Maximo Musielik, AP / August 25, 2011)

KATHERINE CORCORAN, PORFIRIO IBARRA RAMIREZ

MONTERREY, Mexico (AP) — The death toll climbed as workers continued to pull bodies out of a burned casino in northern Mexico, where gunmen spread gasoline and ignited a fire that trapped and killed at least 53 gamblers and employees.

Family members gathered at the caution tape outside the Casino Royale after the Thursday afternoon fire in the northern industrial city of Monterrey, some crying and others yelling at police for providing no information. Later they were allowed to view bodies in the morgue to help identify the victims.

Francisco Tamayo, 28, of Monterrey, said he and family members looked at some 40 bodies in search of his mother, Sonia de la Pena, 47, who loved to gamble at the casino and was there on average four days a week. They had yet to find her.

When Tamayo learned of the fire from television, he first went to the scene.

“She’s probably here,” said Tamayo, who repeatedly called her cell phone, only to hear that it was out of the area of service.

Gov. Rodrigo Medina told the Televisa network late Thursday that the death toll had reached 53. The fire in a city that has seen a surge in drug cartel-related violence represented one of the deadliest attacks on an entertainment center in Mexico since President Felipe Calderon launched an offensive against drug cartels in late 2006.

Calderon tweeted that the attack was “an abhorrent act of terror and barbarism” that requires “all of us to persevere in the fight against these unscrupulous criminal bands.”

Attorney General Leon Adrian de la Garza said a drug cartel was apparently responsible for the attack, though he didn’t name which one. Cartels often extort casinos and other businesses, threatening to attack them or burn them to the ground if they refuse to pay.

It was the second time in three months that the Casino Royale was targeted. Gunmen struck it and three other casinos on May 25, spraying the building with bullets, but no was reported injured in that attack.

The fire in the two-story casino, which advertised sports book and bingo, was reported just before 4 p.m. local time, a slow time of day when normally about 80 people played the tables and slots, said former security guard Alberto Martinez Alvarado, 30. Martinez, who on his way home from work Thursday when he saw the fire, said the casino could hold hundreds, perhaps 1,000 people.

“We’re lucky we weren’t there,” he said. “Why couldn’t the people who did this do some honest work instead?”

State police officials quoted survivors as saying armed men burst into the casino, apparently to rob it, and began dousing the premises with fuel from tanks they brought with them. The officials were not authorized to be quoted by name for security reasons. De la Garza said the liquid appeared to be gasoline.

With shouts and profanities, the attackers told the customers and employees to get out. But many terrified customers and employees fled further inside the building, where they died trapped amid the flames and thick smoke that soon billowed out of the building.

Monterrey Mayor Fernando Larrazabal said many of the bodies were found inside the casino’s bathrooms, where employees and customers had locked themselves to escape the gunmen.

Authorities commandeered backhoes from a nearby construction site and made a brief attempt to break into the casino’s walls as smoke billowed from the main entrance, hindering firefighters.

Maria Tomas Navarro, 42, stood weeping at the edge of the police tape stretched in front of the smoke-stained casino building. She was hoping for word of her brother, 25-year-old Genaro Navarro Vega, who had worked in the casino’s bingo area.

Navarro said she tried calling her brother’s cell phone. “But he doesn’t answer. I don’t know what is happening,” she said. “There is nobody to ask.”

Monterrey has seen bloody turf battles between the Zetas and Gulf cartels in recent months. Once Mexico’s symbol of development and prosperity, the city is seeing this year’s drug-related murders on a pace to double last year’s and triple those of the year before.

Last month, gunmen killed 20 people at a bar in Monterrey. The attackers sprayed the bar with rounds from assault rifles, and police later found bags of drugs at the bar.

State police officials initially said witnesses reported hearing three explosions before Thursday’s fire started, but later said a flammable material was used. The officials were not authorized to be quoted by name for security reasons.

The reports of explosions may have been the sound of the ignition of the liquid.

Norma Reyes, 45, was one of the people who received good news Thursday. Her son called her before she even heard about the fire to say he was all right. Jonathan Reyes, 25, who worked as an area supervisor, told his mother he was at the hospital trying to find out what happened to his co-workers.

“God took care of us today,” she said.

Source: Associated Press.

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