NOUAKCHOTT/LONDON (Reuters) - The government has frozen the assets of five men, including two central suspects in an alleged Iranian plot to kill the Saudi ambassador in the United States, matching sanctions taken by U.S. authorities.
Foreign Secretary William Hague told Reuters that Britain was discussing action with its European Union partners and expected other nations to follow suit with sanctions.
The five people targeted included Manssor Arbabsiar, a naturalised U.S. citizen, who was arrested in September over the plot which Iran has dismissed as a fabricated “comedy show.”
Gholam Shakuri, an Iranian who has been named by the U.S. authorities as a co-plotter, was also included. He is believed to be in Iran.
“The U.S. has designated under their sanctions legislation five individuals. As of today the UK will designate the same five individuals under the Terrorist Asset Freezing Act 2010,” Hague told Reuters.
“We are also discussing with our EU partners a wider action against these same five individuals,” added Hague on his arrival in Mauritania as part of a trip to North Africa.
“It relates to alleged terrorist activity and the activities of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds force.”
“It stops them using UK banks and its financial system,” Hague said. “We are the first country after the U.S. to take this action and we expect to be followed by others.”
The U.S. Treasury imposed similar restrictions on the five last week, describing the four based in Iran as members of the Quds force, a shadowy unit of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps which the U.S. alleges supports “terrorist activities abroad.”
From its embassy in London, Iran issued a statement reiterating it “vehemently and categorically denies the accusations” that it called illogical, “an immature scenario and political show and ... nothing but a media smear campaign.”
The U.S. charges were “based on statements, guesses and suppositions by individuals involved in drug smuggling,” the embassy statement said. “No admissible proof has yet been offered and such baseless allegations would never stand up in a proper, neutral courtroom.”
U.S. officials have said they believe it likely that the head of Quds knew of the alleged plot to kill Saudi ambassador Adel al-Jubeir.
Britain also blacklisted Qasem Soleimani, who it said was a commander in the IRGC. The other two were named as Iranian national Hamed Abdollahi and Abdul Reza Shahlai, who it said lived in Iran.
U.S. authorities said last week that Arbabsiar had paid a U.S. undercover agent posing as a Mexican drug cartel hit man to assassinate the ambassador.
They allege that around $100,000 (63,468 pounds) was sent from a foreign bank outside Iran to the U.S. account of the hired hit man.
The affair has escalated tensions between the United States and Iran, relations poisoned by decades of mutual suspicion and more recently Western concerns over Iran’s nuclear programme.
Reporting by Keith Weir; Editing by Mark Heinrich