NEW: The suspect's estranged wife doubts his guilt
Mitchel Hamauei knew Manssor Arbabsiar for 20 years
Charges sound "out of character," the friend says
Public records show Arbabsiar has three previous arrests
To a friend of more than 20 years, Manssor Arbabsiar was a man who liked to be called “Jack” and didn’t seem to have strong views on politics or religion.
To U.S. authorities, the 56-year-old naturalized U.S. citizen is a suspect in an alleged Iranian plot to assassinate Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United States.
“It was shocking because it didn’t seem like he would be the type of person to do something like that,” said Mitchel Hamauei, who said he met Arbabsiar through mutual Iranian friends.
“He was a happy go lucky guy, always joked around,” Hamauei said. “He had a really happy demeanor.”
Hamauei, who runs a gyro and kebab restaurant in Corpus Christi, Texas, said the two were close enough that he attended the graduation of Arbabsiar’s son.
“I know his wife and his son. They’re very down-to-earth people,” Hamauei said.
The two kept in touch even after Arbabsiar moved to Austin about four or five years ago.
“I saw him about a year ago. He came by the store to eat a sandwich.”
Arbabsiar was a used car salesman, Hamauei said. Their conversations would be about “life in general,” he said. “Nothing religious. Nothing political.”
“He would go out and party,” Hamauei said. “As far as I know he never practiced religion.”
Martha Guerrero, Arbabsiar’s estranged wife, told the Austin, Texas, station KVUE Tuesday that they’ve “been separated for a long time” and she doesn’t know anything about his affairs.
However, she believes he is innocent.
“I may not be living with him, being separated, but I cannot for the life of me think that he would be capable of doing that,” said Guerrero. “He was at the wrong place at the wrong time, I’m sure of that, and I know that his innocence is going to come out.”
She said she and her children “are under a lot of stress right now” and want the ordeal to end. She said they have nothing to do with the situation.
David Tomscha, another friend of Arbabsiar’s in Corpus Christi, told CNN Arbabsiar traveled to Iran once a year and owns property in Iran.
Arbabsiar and Gholam Shakuri, an Iran-based member of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, are accused of a conspiracy to murder a foreign official, conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction and conspiracy to commit an act of terrorism, the FBI said Tuesday.
Arbabsiar was arrested in September. Shakuri remains at large, the bureau said.
The two were in a group that began planning this spring to kill Saudi Ambassador Adel Al-Jubeir, the FBI said.
Arbabsiar has had prior brushes with the law, but for minor infractions.
Public records show three arrests for Arbabsiar over the last 25 years. He was sentenced to 90 days in jail for evading arrest in 1987, and he pleaded “no contest” to a lesser charge in 2004 after he was arrested for driving on a suspended license. Arbabsiar also received a speeding ticket in 2007 for going more than 10 mph over the limit. A 2001 theft charge against Arbabsiar was dismissed, CNN affiliate KIII-TV reported.
According to the allegations he now faces, Arbabsiar and an undercover informant discussed using explosives to kill the Saudi ambassador and possibly attacking a crowded restaurant, according to an FBI affidavit released Tuesday.
The informant named $1.5 million as his price, it said.
Arbabsiar allegedly sent $100,000 intended as a down payment, telling the informant his “cousin” had deep pockets, court documents said.
“This is out of character,” Hamauei said. “Whether he would actually carry it out? I don’t believe so.”
CNN’s Nick Valencia, Tracy Sabo and Maryam Ayromlou contributed to this report