October 14, 2011

Odd Turns For Mansour Arbabsiar

More unusual details surrounding the case of Mansour Arbabsiar. Doesn’t sound like the type that a Quds cell, sanctioned or rogue, would resort to, although the possibility of a sleeper cannot be ruled out - yet. From The New York Times:

His nickname was Scarface, the legacy of a brutal knife attack on a dark Houston street three decades ago that left his left cheek permanently marred. Friends and neighbors in Texas said that he could be gruff and intimidating, and that he often stood outside his house at night smoking and talking on his cellphone in a language they did not understand.

But Mansour J. Arbabsiar, 56, the man at the center of an alleged Iranian plot to kill a Saudi diplomat in Washington, seems to have been more a stumbling opportunist than a calculating killer. Over the 30-odd years he lived in Texas, he left a string of failed businesses and angry creditors in his wake, and an embittered ex-wife who sought a protective order against him. He was perennially disheveled, friends and acquaintances said, and hopelessly disorganized.

Mr. Arbabsiar, now in custody in New York, stands accused by federal prosecutors of running a global terrorist plot that stretched from Mexico to Tehran, and that was directed by the Quds Force of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards. Many of his old friends and associates in Texas seemed stunned at the news, not merely because he was not a zealot, but because he seemed too incompetent to pull it off.

“His socks would not match,” said Tom Hosseini, a former college roommate and friend. “He was always losing his keys and his cellphone. He was not capable of carrying out this plan.”

On Wednesday, American officials, who say the plot was endorsed by top Iranian authorities, were exploring why the sophisticated Quds Force might have chosen to rely on so amateurish an agent as Mr. Arbabsiar.

Sometime in the past two years, Mr. Arbabsiar, whose friends called him Jack, began spending time in his native Iran, and investigators say he formed a relationship with members of the Quds Force. But Mr. Hosseini, who last saw his old roommate about two months ago, said Mr. Arbabsiar appeared to be chasing money, not political intrigue.

“He said he’d been in Iran and was making good money,” Mr. Hosseini said.

The federal complaint against Mr. Arbabsiar did not say how much money he stood to be paid by the Iranians, who are accused of asking him to pay $1.5 million to a Mexican drug cartel to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States. That money was involved was not a surprise to Mr. Arbabsiar’s old friends, who said he had no interest in religion or politics, and smoked marijuana and drank alcohol freely.

“He was no radical,” said Mitchell Hamauei, who owns a deli in Corpus Christi, Tex., where Mr. Arbabsiar ran a used-car lot for years. “He was a businessman, and people with money always want to make more money.”

Some of Mr. Arbabsiar’s former friends and acquaintances had a few kind words for him, saying that he was friendly and good-humored, and that his flaws were more a matter of carelessness than malevolence.

Others were less charitable, saying he was hopelessly unreliable. Sam Ragsdale, who runs his own wholesale car business in Corpus Christi, had one word for Mr. Arbabsiar: “Worthless.”

Mr. Arbabsiar’s arrest sent shock waves across the Middle East — where the accusations seemed certain to worsen Iran’s relations with both the United States and Saudi Arabia — and in the narrower confines of Central Texas, home to a substantial population of Iranian immigrants.

Television crews were parked outside Mr. Arbabsiar’s house in the Austin suburb of Round Rock on Wednesday. No one answered the door of his home. But neighbors said Mr. Arbabsiar, who lived there with his second wife and her children, was something of a pariah in the area, where he rarely greeted or spoke to anyone.

“Very creepy,” said Bree Tiumalu, who lives two doors down from Mr. Arbabsiar. “We thought of it as ‘the scary house.’ ” There were always lots of people coming and going from the house, mostly in their 20s, she said, but they did not socialize with people on the street. That led some in the community to suspect that drug deals were going on.

Mr. Arbabsiar emigrated to the United States as a young man, later briefly studying mechanical engineering at Texas A&I University in Kingsville (now Texas A&M University-Kingsville). While in college, in 1981, a group of men — apparently angry at Mr. Arbabsiar for flirting with their girlfriends — ambushed him in Houston one night, said Mr. Hosseini, who was with him. Mr. Hosseini said he ran away, but Mr. Arbabsiar was too slow, and the attackers stabbed him repeatedly.

Soon after, he gained American citizenship after marrying his first wife. The couple divorced in 1987; court records show that his ex-wife sought a protective order against him before letting it drop, an article in The Houston Chronicle said.

He later remarried and tried his hand at a number of businesses, selling horses, ice cream, used cars and gyro sandwiches, friends said. All of them appear to have flopped, and federal and state records show a trail of liens, business-related lawsuits and angry creditors. He was arrested in 2001 and indicted for theft in connection with the sale of a store, said the lawyer who represented him at the time, Fred Jimenez. The charges were later dismissed for lack of evidence.

For all his flaws, Mr. Arbabsiar showed flashes of decency and kindness, and sometimes lent money to friends in need, old business associates said. Dan Keetch, a used-car salesman in Corpus Christi, said Mr. Arbabsiar seemed deeply upset by the 2001 terrorist attacks, and asked him not to judge all Middle Easterners in a harsh light.

“He made a big deal about it,” Mr. Keetch recalled, “saying, ‘My friend, I’m not like that, the majority of my people are not like that.’"

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