Iranian assassination suspect pleads not guilty

A courtroom artist's sketch of Manssor Arbabsiar at his arraignment in a New York court Monday, Oct. 24, 2011. Arbabsiar was charged in a Federal indictment in connection with a plot to assassinate the Saudi Arabian ambassador to the United States.
Sketch by Jane Rosenberg

A man charged in a plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States has pleaded not guilty in court in New York City.

Manssor Arbabsiar, a 56-year-old Iranian-born used car salesman in Texas who is also a U.S. citizen, appeared nervous as he stood before the court to enter his plea, reports CBS News producer Pat Milton.

"Not guilty," he responded audibly in the courtroom jammed with reporters and onlookers when Judge John Keenan asked him how he pleaded to the five count indictment handed up by a grand jury last Thursday.

Arbabsiar, dressed in navy blue prison garb and wearing a white beard, was not in handcuffs and was accompanied by U.S. Marshals. His court-appointed attorney stood next to him, putting her hand on his shoulder during the 10-minute proceeding. The indictment mirrors the criminal complaint filed on Oct 11, 2011.

Arbabsiar is charged with enlisting the assistance of a drug cartel associate who was actively working for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration in a $1.5 million plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador at a Washington, D.C. restaurant by setting off explosives.

Authorities say that the Arbabsiar has admitted to his role in the plot.

He is scheduled to be back in court December 21.

The Obama administration has accused agents of the Iranian government of being involved in the plot. The Iranian press attache to the United Nations has called the accusation baseless.