A friend of the Texas second-hand car dealer accused of plotting to assassinate Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States says he never thought of his former business partner as politically motivated, much less capable of a terrorist act.
According to David Tomscha, who briefly co-owned a used car lot with him in the Texas Gulf Coast city of Corpus Christi, Manssor Arbabsiar (known to his friends as Jack because his name is too hard to pronounce) was likable, albeit a bit lazy. "He's no mastermind," Tomscha told the Associated Press on Tuesday. "I can't imagine him thinking up a plan like that. I mean, he didn't seem all that political. He was more of a businessman."
Arbabsiar, 56, is held without bail in New York for his role in the alleged plot to kill Saudi diplomat Adel Al-Jubeir. The Justice Department contends that Arbabsiar and another man working for the Iranian government tried to hire a purported member of one Mexican drug cartel to carry out the attack with a bomb while Al-Jubeir was at a restaurant.
Tomscha, 60, said their partnership in the 1990s ended after about six months when Arbabsiar stopped paying his share of the lot expenses, though they remained friends. Arbabsiar never talked about travelling to Mexico, Tomscha said.
Arbabsiar had arrived in the US to attend what was then known as Texas A & I University in Kingsville. Afterwards he opened a used car lot with two college friends and eventually owned several such lots in the Corpus Christi area; he seemed to get first choice on the repossessed cars at the auto auction in town, Tomscha said. "He was sort of a hustler, I think he made some money." Tomscha last saw Arbabsiar in the autumn, and in early 2011 he heard that his friend had moved back to Iran. Tomscha was shocked to find out about his arrest.
After living for years in Corpus Christi, Arbabsiar followed his wife to the Austin area. Nobody answered the door Tuesday at his two-story stucco and brick home in a well-manicured neighborhood in Round Rock, the Austin suburb known to be Arbabsiar's residence. One man was seen going inside in the afternoon, and later there was a delivery from Pizza Hut.
A neighbour testified that he frequently saw Arbabsiar walking in the neighborhood after dark, while smoking cigarettes and talking on a cell phone in a foreign language. "My wife and I always thought there was something weird about the guy," said Eric Cano, a 38-year-old buyer for a grocery company who lives next door. "But you don't think it will get to this level."
Halloween decorations hung from a tree in Arbabsiar's front yard. Within hours of Arbabsiar's arrest, the neighborhood was flooded with trucks from local television stations.
Records show Arbabsiar has also lived in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, and was married at least twice. He was arrested and released in 2001 for theft by check, charges that were eventually dropped, said Cynthia Martinez of the Nueces County Sheriff's Office, which includes Corpus Christi. She said Arbabsiar was also arrested in 1993, 1996 and 1997 on traffic violations.
Cano said Arbabsiar moved in with a woman who was already living in the house previously and was raising three boys, all of whom had graduated from high school. Records indicate the home is owned by the woman to whom Arbabsiar was married.
Cano said that, although he saw Arbabsiar with some frequency, they never spoke. "He wasn't friendly at all. He'd never even acknowledge you. He'd just walk and talk in this language I'd never heard."