The US Department of Justice says the Iranian man in these three photos, Shahram Poursafi, tried to hire a hitman to kill President Donald Trump's former National Security Advisor, John Bolton. Coffee or Die Magazine composite.
As payback for the 2020 assassination of terrorist kingpin Qassem Soleimani, a fellow member of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps launched an international murder-for-hire plot to kill Donald Trump’s national security adviser, according to the FBI.
In a two-count indictment unsealed Wednesday, Aug. 10, in Washington, DC, federal prosecutors charged Shahram Poursafi, 45, of Tehran, with attempting to hire a hitman to murder ex-NSA John Bolton in either Maryland or the capital for $250,000.
“The Justice Department has the solemn duty to defend our citizens from hostile governments who seek to hurt or kill them,” said Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen of the Justice Department’s National Security Division in a videotaped message. “This is not the first time we have uncovered Iranian plots to exact revenge against individuals on US soil. We will work tirelessly to expose and disrupt every one of these efforts.”
Also known as Mehdi Rezayi, Poursafi is believed to be in Iran. He’s never visited the US, according to federal investigators.
Iranian diplomats did not respond to Coffee or Die Magazine's messages seeking comment about the breaking allegations. Neither official government news agencies nor leaders at the Permanent Mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran in New York have issued statements about the indictment.
Former National Security Adviser John Bolton discusses the “current threats to national security” during a forum moderated by Peter Feaver, the director of Duke’s American Grand Strategy, at the Page Auditorium on the campus of Duke University on Feb. 17, 2020, in Durham, North Carolina. The US Department of Justice alleges that an Iranian tried to hire a hitman to kill the ex-government official. Photo by Melissa Sue Gerrits/Getty Images.
According to an FBI affidavit of probable cause filed alongside his indictments, Poursafi’s plot kicked off in late 2021, roughly 21 months after the Jan. 3, 2020, slaying of Soleimani in Iraq.
The assassination of the Quds Force commander by the US roiled tensions in Baghdad, Tehran, and throughout the Middle East.
Agents said Poursafi had reached out to a person on a social media site to take pictures or video of Bolton. He offered between $5,000 and $10,000 for the job and told the person that the images were needed for a book he was writing.
In court records, the FBI cloaked the person's name as "Individual A." According to agents, Individual A put the Iranian in touch with an associate to do the work, a Texas-based person masked in the filings as "Confidential Human Source" and "CHS."
Within a month, the conversations between Poursafi and the FBI's confidential informant had moved to an encrypted device. During one session, Poursafi allegedly offered $50,000 to the Texan to hire a hitman for $200,000 to “eliminate someone,” later identified as Bolton, according to the filing.
Poursafi allegedly told the person that Bolton took long walks alone in a park, and the assassin could run him over in a car.
An Iranian carries a portrait of the slain head of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force, Qassem Soleimani, during a gathering at the Azadi stadium in Tehran on May 26, 2022. Photo by AFP/Getty Images.
On Nov. 15, 2021, Poursafi allegedly told the associate to cut out the middleman and kill Bolton. The Texan, however, told Bolton that a potential hitman was interested, but he wanted more money and some of the cash up front.
Saying his unspecified group only paid for finished work, Poursafi allegedly urged the FBI's confidential informant to open a digital currency account to arrange payment, which would be held in escrow until Bolton was dead.
The Texan contacted Poursafi later that day and said the hitman had agreed to do the assassination for $250,000, plus a $50,000 fee to the middleman for arranging the killing, the filing states.
Poursafi urged the contact to get a burner phone to hand to the hitman, the FBI added.
On Nov. 23, the Texan sent Poursafi surveillance photos of Bolton’s office, according to the FBI.
Poursafi allegedly told the person that the parking structure looked like a good place to kill Bolton, but the other person said it was too heavily trafficked.
According to the FBI, Shahram Poursafi, aka Mehdi Rezayi, 45, of Tehran, Iran, attempted to arrange the murder of former National Security Adviser John Bolton. Poursafi faces murder-for-hire charges in the US, according to an indictment unsealed Aug. 10, 2022, in Washington, DC. Composite by Coffee or Die Magazine.
During this time, US investigators armed with search warrants had begun monitoring Poursafi’s computer system, seemingly keystroke by keystroke, records reveal.
On Dec. 21, the Texan told Poursafi that a sicario — a Mexican hitman with ties to one of the country’s transnational drug cartels — had agreed to do the job, according to the indictment.
The Iranian responded the next day by sending photos of what he said were bags of cash being used as the escrow on job, once the hitman finished it.
Throughout the alleged assassination plot, however, Poursafi only wired $100 into a digital account, merely to show that it was active and he could send money.
In the meantime, the second anniversary of Soleimani’s death was looming, and Poursafi said his “group” wanted the execution completed by then, according to the indictment. But then the anniversary came and went, and Bolton was still very much alive, so the Iranian allegedly threatened to give the assignment to another hitman.
Iraqis lift a placard depicting Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa Mosque, slain Iranian and Iraqi commanders — Qassem Soleimani, right, and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, respectively — and a slogan in Arabic reading “normalisation is high treason” during a rally marking al-Quds (Jerusalem) Day in the central shrine city of Najaf on April 29, 2022. Photo by Ali Najafi/AFP/Getty Images.
Poursafi alluded to another source who was monitoring Bolton’s whereabouts, and the information looked spot on, but FBI agents weren’t able to determine whether the Iranians were using a spy, cyber intrusion, or another method to shadow the ex-NSA.
Throughout his exchanges with the unnamed Texan, Poursafi was careful to never link senior Iranian leaders to the plot, and by Jan. 10, 2022, he was allegedly telling the middleman it was “just a few guys who had come together."
During a Jan. 15 update, the Texan allegedly told Poursafi that the assassination would involve three vans with darkened windows and firearms with silencers. The Iranian urged the middleman to smear mud and paint on the glass, otherwise the vehicles would draw attention.
Four days later, the Texas contact allegedly told Poursafi that the kill team had lost their target, who might’ve been traveling. On Jan. 20, Poursafi assured the Texan that Bolton didn’t have a bodyguard and to focus on intercepting him near his office and to do it quickly because the ex-NSA was planning on leaving town, according to the indictment.
National Security Adviser John Bolton, right, listens to US President Donald Trump during a briefing from senior military leaders regarding Syria in the Cabinet Room on April 9, 2018, in Washington, DC. Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images.
On Jan. 21, the Texan told Poursafi the team had located Bolton at his home and hoped to “complete the operation that evening,” but the ex-NSA had been entertaining others and left in a car, the FBI wrote. The next day, the contact allegedly told Poursafi that they'd found Bolton again, but he was with others.
The Iranian said he only wanted Bolton “taken out” and urged the team to switch vans after the hit to avoid the cops, according to the indictment.
Excuses for not being able to finish the hit continued through the month. On Feb. 1, Poursafi allegedly told the Texan that, if the job wasn’t completed in two weeks, the hit would go to another assassin. On Feb. 4, he granted the middleman a 10-day extension, but the Texan later said it couldn’t be done before then, according to the indictment.
But by then the plot appeared to peter out. Although the Texan and Poursafi allegedly continued to talk through March and April, it was increasingly about an unspecified second assassination operation that also never occurred.
“Iran has a history of plotting to assassinate individuals in the U.S. it deems a threat, but the US government has a longer history of holding accountable those who threaten the safety of our citizens,” Executive Assistant Director Larissa L. Knapp of the FBI’s National Security Branch said in a videotaped message. “Let there be no doubt: The FBI, the US government, and our partners remain vigilant in the fight against such threats here in the US and overseas.”
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Carl Prine is a former senior editor at Coffee or Die Magazine. He has worked at Navy Times, The San Diego Union-Tribune, and Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He served in the Marine Corps and the Pennsylvania Army National Guard. His awards include the Joseph Galloway Award for Distinguished Reporting on the military, a first prize from Investigative Reporters & Editors, and the Combat Infantryman Badge.
For more than 150 years, the Medal of Honor has been used to recognize acts of extraordinary battlefield courage performed in service to the United States.
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