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Alleged Iran assassin pleads not guilty in federal court

Manssor Arbabsiar pleaded not guilty in a New York district court on Monday to charges stemming from his role in the alleged Iranian plot to assassinate Adel al-Jubeir [official profile], Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the US, on US soil. Arbabsiar, a US citizen, is alleged to have participated in a $1.5 million plot hire a Mexican drug cartel [AP report, video] to assassinate the Saudi ambassador using plastic explosives. The US Department of Justice [official website] announced earlier this month that it had foiled the plot [press release]. Arbabsiar, who was working as a used-car salesman in Texas, was arrested, and the other suspect, Gholam Shakuri, is still at-large and believed to be in Iran. Both men are Iranian nationals. It is illegal to kill or threaten to kill diplomatic ambassadors [JURIST report], and nations are required to either prosecute the offenders or extradite them so that charges can be brought against them.

Tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran have existed for decades [CNN backgrounder]. There is both a political and religious divide between the countries, as Saudi Arabia is predominately Sunni and Iran is predominately Shia. The recent Arab Spring has only exacerbated tensions between the countries [CNN backgrounder] as Iran, at least initially, supported the revolutions because it saw Tunisia, Egypt and Bahrain as American allies. Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, wished to preserve the status quo in the Arab world. Many commentators suggest that the alleged assassination plot will only further escalate the tension between the countries [TIME report] and strengthen the weakening US-Saudi relationship.

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