Authorities accused 4 people of participating in Iran’s conspiracy to kidnap American journalists and 4 others
Authorities said on Tuesday that an Iranian intelligence official and three alleged members of the Iranian intelligence network were accused in Manhattan of conspiring to lure an American journalist and human rights activist from New York to Iran.
An indictment in Manhattan Federal Court stated that the conspiracy was part of a broader plan to lure three persons from Canada and a fifth person from Britain to Iran. Authorities say the victims have also become targets in the United Arab Emirates.
The Iranian mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Tehran’s official media did not immediately acknowledge the so-called conspiracy, although in recent years Iran has become more radical in the tensions caused by its broken nuclear agreement, arresting opposition journalists and dissidents abroad.
According to the indictment, all targeted victims are critical of Iran.
The target allegedly expressed shock
Although the identity of the alleged victim has not been disclosed, Reuters confirmed that the alleged US target was the Iranian-American journalist Massih Ali Nejad, who worked on the Persian service of the Voice of America funded by the US government and Iran’s human rights issues. The report contributed.
Reuters requested confirmation that Alinejad was the target of the conspiracy, and the Justice Department declined to comment.
But after the indictment was announced, Reuters contacted Erin Nejad by phone, and she said she was in a state of shock. She said she has been cooperating with the FBI since she was contacted by the FBI through photos taken by the conspirators eight months ago.
“They told me that the Islamic Republic is very close,” she said.
“Some far-fetched movie plots”
Although not charged in the kidnapping conspiracy, Niloufar Bahadorifar, also known as Nellie, was arrested in California on July 1st for providing U.S. financial and other services to Iranian residents and entities, and that some financial services supported the conspiracy and Violated sanctions against Iran, according to a press release.
The indictment alleges that Bahadorifar, 46, is from Iran and works in a department store in California. Martin Cohen, an attorney for Bahadorifar and assistant federal defender, declined to comment.
The authorities stated that Bahadorifar pleaded not guilty to the charges made at the time of her arrest and was released on bail. In Tuesday’s alternative indictment, she still faces charges of being arraigned.
The authorities stated that the remaining defendants were believed to be fugitives in Iran.
U.S. prosecutor Audrey Strauss said that the four defendants charged in the kidnapping conspiracy “monitored and planned to kidnap an Iranian-American citizen who criticized the regime’s dictatorship, and forcibly took their targeted victims to Iran. , Where the fate of the victims will be uncertain at best.”
“Among the most precious freedoms in this country, there is the right to express one’s own ideas without worrying about government reprisals. American citizens living in the United States must be able to advocate for human rights without being targeted by foreign intelligence agents,” she added.
“Everyone in the United States must be free from harassment, threats, and personal injury from foreign powers,” said Mark J. Lesko, acting US Attorney General. “Through this prosecution, we exposed such a harmful conspiracy to endanger American citizens who are exercising the rights of the First Amendment.”
William F. Sweeney, head of the office of the FBI in New York, pointed out that the indictment sounds a bit like “some far-fetched movie plots.”
“We accused a group supported by the Iranian government of conspiring to kidnap an American journalist on our land and forcibly send her back to Iran. Not under our supervision,” he said.
Allegedly hired a private investigator
The Iranian intelligence officer who is still at large has been identified as Alireza Shavaroghi Farahani.
The indictment stated that 50-year-old Farahani and three other defendants have tried to kidnap Iranian-American citizens living in Brooklyn since at least June 2020. If arrested and convicted, all four of them could face life imprisonment.
The indictment alleges that Farahani and the network he led multiple times in 2020 and 2021 lied about his intentions when hiring private investigators to monitor, take pictures, and videotape targeted reporters and family members of reporters. It said the surveillance includes real-time HD video of the reporter’s home.
The indictment stated that the Iranian government tried to lure the reporter to a third country in 2018 for capture, and even provided funds to the reporter’s relatives to try to make it possible.
The indictment stated that the relatives rejected the proposal.
The authorities say it’s not the first time
Authorities said that Iranian intelligence agencies had previously lured other Iranian dissidents from France and the United States to arrest and imprison critics of the Iranian regime, and publicly claimed responsibility for the arrests.
Like the indictment, they pointed out that the electronic device Farahani used contained a photo of a New York reporter and two other people. The indictment stated that these people were captured by Iranian intelligence services. It stated that one person was later executed and the other was imprisoned.
The others accused of participating in the kidnapping conspiracy were identified as 42-year-old Mahmoud Khazein, 35-year-old Kiya Sadeghi and 45-year-old Omid Noori, all from Iran.
According to the indictment, Sadji studied a service to provide military speedboats that can be evacuated from New York City at sea and eventually reach Venezuela, where the de facto government of Venezuela has friendly relations with Iran.
It said that Khazein studied travel routes from the reporter’s residence to the Brooklyn waterfront community, and the location of the reporter’s residence relative to Venezuela and Tehran.