Four alleged Iranian intelligence agents were charged by US federal prosecutors for allegedly attempting to kidnap a journalist critical of the Tehran government.
The journalist is a U.S. citizen of Iranian origin.
The 43-page indictment unsealed on July 13th details the plan by an Iranian intelligence official and his three assets to track a Brooklyn-based journalist with the goal of bringing her back to Iran.
The court records also include information on a fifth woman based in the U.S. who prosecutors say helped fund the operation.
The indictment in Manhattan federal court doesn’t name the intended victim, who is described as a journalist and human rights advocate.
However, The New York Times reports the journalist and author Masih Alinejad, confirmed in an interview that she was the intended target.
Alinejad lives in Brooklyn and has family still in Iran.
I am grateful to FBI for foiling the Islamic Republic of Iran's Intelligence Ministry's plot to kidnap me. This plot was orchestrated under Rouhani.
This is the regime that kidnapped & executed Ruhollah Zam. They've also kidnapped and jailed Jamshid Sharmahd and many others pic.twitter.com/HUefdEbiil
— Masih Alinejad 🏳️ (@AlinejadMasih) July 14, 2021
According to the FBI and federal prosecutors, the alleged movie-like plan to kidnap Alinejad and bring her back to Iran started in 2020.
Even earlier, in 2018, Iranian government officials allegedly tried to get Alinejad’s family to tell her to join them in another country outside of the U.S. and Iran.
The alleged goal was to detain her and transport her to Iran for imprisonment. Her family rejected those efforts, prosecutors said.
FBI Assistant Director William F. Sweeney Jr. said in a statement:
“This is not some far-fetched movie plot. We allege a group, backed by the Iranian government, conspired to kidnap a U.S.-based journalist here on our soil and forcibly return her to Iran. Not on our watch. FBI special agents and analysts will continue to aggressively hunt for foreign operatives who attempt illegal action inside our borders or against our citizens.”
The operation was part of a larger plan to lure other potential victims from Canada, the U.K., and the United Arab Emirates back to Iran, according to the indictment.
Prosecutors said the head of the alleged operation, Alireza Shahvaroghi Farahani, is an Iranian intelligence official who lives in Iran.
He guided Iranian intelligence assets, Mahmoud Khazein, Kiya Sadeghi, and Omid Noori, in the plot.
The three men also live in Iran. Farahani, Khazein, Sadeghi, and Noori remain at large.
In an incredibly amateur manner, the men searched online for Alinejad’s home address in Brooklyn and took screenshots of her home, according to the FBI.
In July 2020, the group reached out to a private investigator asking about prices of surveillance services, claiming that they were searching for a missing person from Dubai who fled to New York to avoid repaying debts.
They requested high quality pictures and video of the person’s home and the cars they drove.
Back then, the private investigator provided pictures and videos as requested to the men. He sent images of Alinejad’s home, her comings and goings almost every hour, as well as pictures of her friends and associates, according to the indictment.
At the same time ongoing surveillance continued of Alinejad, prosecutors say Sadeghi and other members of the team researched services offering “military-style speedboats” for evacuations out of New York City, also by searching for that on Google.
One of the four researched a service offering “military-style speedboats for self-operated maritime evacuation out of New York City, and maritime travel from New York to Venezuela, a country whose de facto government has friendly relations with Iran,” the Justice Department said.
Farahani, Khazein, Sadeghi and Noori were each charged with conspiring to kidnap, conspiring to violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA) and sanctions against the government of Iran, conspiring to commit bank and wire fraud and conspiring to launder money. A conviction on the kidnapping charge alone could carry a life sentence; the other charges bring up to 20-30 years in prison each.
Prosecutors say the plan was bankrolled by a fifth woman, Niloufar Bahadorifar. While working at a department store, she facilitated payments to the private investigators used by the group to track Alinejad.
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