Federal prosecutors have charged an Iranian national with plotting to assassinate John Bolton, Donald Trump’s former national security adviser, on US soil.

The US Department of Justice said it believed 45-year-old Shahram Poursafi, a member of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards who also goes by the name Mehdi Rezayi, had attempted to arrange a “murder for hire” targeting Bolton in retaliation for the death of Qassem Soleimani, a top IRGC commander, in January 2020.

“Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, through the defendant, tried to hatch a brazen plot: assassinate a former US official on US soil in retaliation for US actions,” said Matthew Graves, US attorney for the District of Columbia.

Iran vowed to avenge Soleimani’s death after former US president Trump ordered a drone strike that killed one of the Islamic republic’s most powerful and revered commanders near Baghdad airport in 2020. Bolton was not working for the administration at the time of Soleimani’s death; he had been fired in September 2019 after his hawkish position on Iran and North Korea led to clashes with Trump.

The assassination of Soleimani, who was head of the Quds Force, the wing of the guards responsible for overseas operations, pushed the adversaries to the brink of war. Tehran initially responded by firing missiles at two bases hosting US soldiers in Iraq. No American troops were killed in the attack.

According to court documents, Poursafi attempted to organise the assassination via an encrypted messaging application, after contacting a US resident online and asking if he could take photographs of Bolton for a book he was writing. In November 2021, that individual put Poursafi in touch with a second person, to whom he offered first $250,000 and eventually $300,000 to “eliminate” the former national security adviser.

Over the course of several months, Poursafi repeatedly pressured the individual to carry out the attack, sending them updates on Bolton’s whereabouts as well as photographs of clear plastic bags filled with US dollars — the implied payment, according to prosecutors. Should the individual fail to complete the job, Poursafi’s “group” would be angry, he warned.

Should he be convicted, Poursafi could face up to 15 years imprisonment for “attempting to provide material support to a transnational murder plot” and 10 years imprisonment “for the use of interstate commercial facilities in the commission of murder-for-hire”. US authorities said Poursafi was at large outside the country.

“The justice department has the solemn duty to defend our citizens from hostile governments who seek to hurt or kill them,” said Matthew Olsen, assistant attorney-general in the justice department’s national security division. “This is not the first time we have uncovered Iranian plots to exact revenge against individuals on US soil and we will work tirelessly to expose and disrupt every one of these efforts.”

Bolton, who served as national security adviser for about 18 months, in a statement thanked the justice department for bringing the case and the FBI “for its diligence in discovering and tracking the Iranian regime’s criminal threat to American citizens”.

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