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Defendant in terror plot has Corpus Christi connection

Oct. 11, 2011 at 5:11 a.m.

Manssor Arbabsiar

ROUND ROCK, Texas (AP) — One of the men accused of working for the Iranian government to assassinate the Saudi ambassador has lived in Texas for decades, and records show he had multiple arrests in the state for offenses including theft and evading arrest.

Nobody answered the door Tuesday at the two-story stucco and brick home in a well-manicured neighborhood in this Austin suburb that federal officials list as Manssor Arbabsiar’s residence. One man was seen going inside in the afternoon, and later there was a delivery from Pizza Hut.

A neighbor said he frequently saw Arbabsiar walking in the neighborhood after dark, while smoking cigarettes and talking on a cellphone in a language the neighbor didn’t understand.

“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.”

Arbabsiar, 56, is being held without bail in New York for his role in the alleged plot to kill Saudi diplomat Adel Al-Jubeir in the United States. The Justice Department contends that Arbabsiar and another man tried to hire a purported member of a Mexican drug cartel to carry out the attack with a bomb while Al-Jubeir was at a restaurant.

David Tomscha told The Associated Press in an interview that he and Arbabsiar once owned a used car lot together in Corpus Christi. Tomscha said Arbabsiar was likable, but a bit lazy, and “sort of a hustler.”

“He’s no mastermind,” Tomscha told The Associated Press. “If anything he would do things for money.”

Arbabsiar came to the United States to attend what was then known as Texas A & I University in Kingsville, Tomscha said. After college Arbabsiar opened a used car lot in the area with a couple college friends, he said.

Halloween decorations hung from the facade and a tree in the front yard of Arbabsiar’s home. Within hours of Arbabsiar’s arrest, the neighborhood was flooded with trucks from local television stations.

Pizza Hut employee Justin Felder had to park down the block but walked up to the home and collected $34.10 for two pizzas, breadsticks and soda from a man inside who never stepped out from behind the door so as not to reveal his face.

“All I saw was a dog and then a hand,” Felder said. “I didn’t know if I was going to get shot or not.”

Records show Arbabsiar also has lived in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and Corpus Christi, and been married at least twice. He was arrested and released in 2001 for theft by check, charges that were eventually dismissed, 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 had lived at the house in Round Rock previously and was raising three boys, all of whom have graduated from high school.

Records indicate the home is owned by a woman to whom Arbabsiar was married.

Cano said that, while he would see Arbabsiar with some frequency, they’d never speak.

“He wasn’t friendly at all,” Cano said. “He’d never even acknowledge you. He’d just walk and talk in this language I’d never heard of.”

Another neighbor described the family as private compared to others in the area.

“Most of us are pretty close on this street, but they were the ones who hung back and didn’t say much,” said Chris Elquist, a 33-year-old high school special education associate.

Elquist said he never gave much thought to the way the family acted.

“I just figured they wanted their privacy,” he said.

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