- Four Iranian intelligence officers were charged Tuesday for attempting to kidnap a US journalist and activist.
- Masih Alinejad, a US citizen of Iranian descent who has been critical of the country, confirmed she was the target.
- An indictment unsealed Tuesday alleges the Iranian government directed the “state actors” to devise the scheme.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Four Iranian intelligence officials were charged Tuesday with attempting to kidnap a US journalist and human rights activist of Iranian descent who has been openly critical of the regime’s autocracy, according to the Department of Justice.
The men monitored and targeted the Brooklyn-based author, planning to forcibly take her to Tehran, “where the victim’s fate would have been uncertain at best,” US Attorney Audrey Strauss said in a DOJ press release.
Alinejad, a presenter for Voice of America, has been a longtime critic of Iran’s human rights abuses and policies on women’s rights.
Alireza Shavaroghi Farahani, 50; Mahmoud Khazein, 42; Kiya Sadeghi, 35; and Omid Noori, 45, all of Iran, were charged with conspiracy to kidnap, conspiracy to violate sanctions against Iran, conspiracy to commit bank fraud, and conspiracy to launder money.
A fifth man, Niloufar Bahadorifar, a California resident, was arrested earlier this month and is alleged to have provided financial services to the foreign nationals in violation of the US’s sanctions on Iran.
Farahani, Khazein, Sadeghi, and Noori all live in Iran and have not been arrested, the release said. All four are said to be part of the Iranian intelligence community.
An indictment unsealed on Tuesday alleges the Iranian government directed the “state actors” to devise the kidnapping scheme and conduct surveillance on US soil in order to “lure” Alinejad back to Iran “as retaliation” for her freedom of expression.
“This is not some far-fetched movie plot. We allege a group, backed by the Iranian government, conspired to kidnap a US-based journalist here on our soil and forcibly return her to Iran. Not on our watch,” FBI Assistant Director William Sweeney told The National.
Alinejad commented on the attempted kidnapping plot on Tuesday evening, sharing a video of herself with police protection in the background on Twitter.
—Masih Alinejad ?️ (@AlinejadMasih) July 14, 2021
“Yes, I’m also worried,” Alinejad said in the video. “But it imbues me with a feeling of safety when I see the police protect me. This wouldn’t have happened in my homeland.”
Alinejad did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.
Prosecutors said the men researched ways to return Alinejad to Iran, including looking into obtaining a speed boat that would take her from New York City to Venezuela and then on to Tehran.
At one point, Khazein searched “brooklyn new york to caracas by boat” in Google Maps, according to the indictment.
The men also considered trying to lure Alinejad to a foreign country where they could more easily take her, even trying to involve her relatives in the plot, prosecutors said.
Farahani reached out to several private investigators to track Alinejad, producing photographs of her and members of her household, prosecutors said. The network was also able to have a live camera feed installed in her home that recorded at all times in 2020 and into 2021, according to the indictment.
The men obtained such rigorous surveillance by “misrepresenting their identities and the purpose” to private investigators, according to prosecutors.
Prosecutors said Farahani runs a network that has previously targeted victims in other countries, surveilling people in a similar manner.
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