By Greg Flakus, VOA, Houston, Texas
The man accused of plotting with Iranian government officials to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States has spent most of the past 30 years in the state of Texas. People who knew him there say it is hard to imagine Manssor Arbabsiar being involved in such a complex scheme. They describe him as being forgetful, disorganized and a joke.
Many people who knew Arbabsiar in the coastal city of Corpus Christi, say he lacked basic organizational skills.
Iranian immigrant Tom Hosseini, who runs a convenience store in Corpus Christi, has known Arbabsiar for more than 30 years.
“I am still in shock that he was able to pull something like that, which I do not believe. To my knowledge, he is not capable of doing anything like that,” said Hosseini.
Hosseini said Arbabsiar was always losing his keys and other items. He did not speak Spanish, and Hosseini said it is hard to believe he would have gone to Mexico City to contact drug cartel killers, as the federal government alleges. He said his friend could be exasperating at times because of his irresponsible nature, but that most people liked him.
“He was a very nice guy, you know, he was a comic, always telling jokes for the Iranian community, he would make people laugh,” said Hosseini.
He also said the arrest of his friend has brought shame to the 200 or so Iranians who live around Corpus Christi.
“If he would have told me he had something like this in mind, I would have stopped him myself. It makes us look bad. In the last 30 years, this is the first time that they accuse an Iranian of setting a plot to assassinate someone inside the United States,” said Hosseini.
Judd Jones, who manages an automobile resale operation in which Arbabsiar once had a stake, said he never seemed like a terrorist.
“He was a nice guy. He never talked about no terroristic stuff [terrorism issues] and all this. He said a lot of foreign people get a bad rep [reputation] because everyone thinks they are terrorists, but he said, 'don't think I am like those guys because I am not like that,'” said Jones.
The business owner, David Tomscha., went into a partnership with Arbabsiar in the 1990s. But he soon took complete control because Arbabsiar failed to pay bills, properly handle sales and generally hold up his part of the deal.
Tomscha said his old partner may have been lured into the plot by the promise of quick riches.
“I think somebody used him. If he was going to do it, though, and blow up people, I am glad they caught him,” said Tomscha.
Some acquaintances say Arbabsiar went back to Iran within the past year and returned with lots of money, talking about some lucrative business. But he never mentioned any connection with the Iranian government. The U.S. accuses members of Iran’s elite Quds military unit of working with Arbabsiar in the plot.
Tomscha said it is hard for him to understand why a sophisticated organization would have worked with someone so incompetent.
“He didn't pay his bills. He was nice enough, but he wasn't organized. They say he was wiring money. I cannot believe he could even wire money. He could barely sign his name,” said Tomscha.
Arbabsiar's estranged wife, Martha Guerrero, is not speaking to reporters now. But she told a local TV station earlier this week that she does not believe the charges against him. Echoing what others have said, she said he was not capable of doing it.
Experts on Iran and terrorism are divided on Arbabsiar's alleged role in the plot. While some say it seems unlikely that Iran would have worked with such a man, others say it fits a pattern of Iran sometimes using third parties to carry out plans hatched in Tehran.
Those who study Mexico's drug cartels also are skeptical, noting that drug traffickers would probably not want to be involved in a plot that would bring the wrath of the United States down on them.
Arbabsiar first came to the attention of U.S. law enforcement in May when he contacted a man in Mexico City who said he represented a cartel. The man was really an informant for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, which passed the information on to the FBI, leading to his arrest in September. Arbabsiar is jailed New York awaiting court proceedings.
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