NEW YORK -- A mentally troubled used car salesman was sentenced to 25 years in federal prison on Thursday for his part in an Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps of Iran plot to kill the Saudi Arabian ambassador to the United States, Adel Al-Jubeir.
Manssor Arbabsiar, 58, showed little emotion as U.S. District Judge John Keenan handed down the full sentence the government had requested. But in remarks just before his prison term was ordered, Arbabsiar said that he took full responsibility for his part in the scheme and expressed his desire to someday go home to his family in Texas.
Keenan said he was ordering the long sentence because "in a case like this, deterrence is of supreme importance." Others who seek to commit terrorism for financial or political gain, he said, "must learn the lesson that such conduct will not be tolerated."
Almost since his arrest in 2011, Arbabsiar's defense attorneys questioned whether he had the demeanor or the wherewithal to go through with the conspiracy to blow up a bomb in a Washington, D.C., restaurant with Al-Jubeir inside.
Arbabsiar had succeeded neither in business nor in marriage. At a pre-sentencing hearing earlier this month, Dr. Michael First, a psychiatrist testifying for the defense, said Arbabsiar's first meeting with an alleged Guards Corps member had taken place "in the context of severe depression."
"My mind, sometimes it's not in a good place," Arbabsiar acknowledged during his sentencing on Thursday.
The judge said he was unconvinced by First's testimony, saying that the doctor's diagnosis of Arbabsiar's condition had shifted over two evaluations.
National security experts, meanwhile, were dumbfounded by the seemingly amateurish nature of the Iranian plot, which involved paying a Mexican cartel hit man $1.5 million to carry out the assassination. Even Robert Mueller, the director of the FBI, said the indictment read "like the pages of a Hollywood script."
Arbabsiar pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiracy and one count of murder-for-hire in October. Particularly damaging for his defense were his tape-recorded statements that the possibility innocent people might die in the restaurant explosion was "no big deal."
Assistant U.S. Attorney Glen Kopp said that Arbarbsiar's "murderous scheme" was "an extraordinary crime that requires an equally serious sentence" to send a message to hostile foreign regimes like Iran that might seek to settle scores on U.S. soil.
Defense attorney Sabrina Shroff said she was not surprised by the sentence after it was handed down. But she rejected at the idea that a lengthy prison term for Arbabsiar would send a message to Iran, or prevent future plots.
"For deterrence to work, the person has to matter," she said. "Mr. Arbabsiar is expendable both to the United States and Iran. It is only those who are expendable that are put in this spot. Deterrence would be far more effective if the government of Iran were the defendant."