U.S. prosecutors have accused four Iranians, allegedly intelligence operatives, of conspiring to kidnap a New York journalist who criticized Tehran, according to a Justice Department indictment.
Although the indictment, which did not close on Tuesday, did not designate the purpose of the plot, the Reuters news agency has confirmed the person as Iranian-American journalist Masih Alinejad, who has collaborated with the Voice of America (VOA) Persian voice service and reports on human rights issues in Iran.
Asked by Reuters to confirm that Alinejad was the target of the plot, the Justice Department (DoJ) declined to comment.
According to the indictment, the four Iranians hired private investigators with false pretensions to monitor the unnamed journalist in Brooklyn, videotaping the victim’s family and home as part of a plot to remove the person from the country.
The four defendants planned to “force their planned victim into Iran, where the victim’s fate would have been uncertain, at best,” U.S. attorney Audrey Strauss told the Southern District of New York.
In a statement posted on its website, the DoJ identified the suspects as Alireza Shavaroghi Farahani, also known as Vezerat Salimi and Haj Ali, 50; Mahmoud Khazein, 42; Kiya Sadeghi, 35; and Omid Noori, 45, all of them Iranians.
According to the indictment, Farahani is an Iranian intelligence official residing in Iran. Khazein, Sadeghi and Noori are members of the Iranian intelligence who also reside in Iran and work under Farahani. Allegedly, they had been plotting the kidnapping of the journalist since at least June 2020.
Deputy Director Alan E Kohler Jr., of the FBI’s counterintelligence division, said the Iranian government “led a number of state actors” to carry out the kidnapping.
“We will use all the tools at our disposal to aggressively investigate the foreign activities of conspiring agents to kidnap a U.S. citizen just because the Iranian government did not approve of criticism of the victim’s regime.”
A California neighbor, Niloufar Bahadorifar, also known as Nellie Bahadorifar, 46, reportedly provided financial services that supported the plot.
This is not the first time Iranian agents have been accused of searching for Iranian dissidents.
In December 2020, Turkey arrested 11 people involved in the kidnapping and smuggling to Iran of an Iranian dissident wanted in connection with a deadly 2018 attack in southwestern Iran.
Habib Chaab, an ethnic Arab separatist leader, was drugged and abducted by a network working “on behalf of the Iranian intelligence service” after being lured to fly to Turkey by an intelligence agent Iranian, according to a senior Turkish official.
The United States had also alleged that Iranian diplomats were behind the assassination of an Iranian dissident, Masoud Molavi Vardanjani, in the Turkish city of Istanbul in November 2019. Two senior Turkish officials had told Reuters that the assassination was instigated by two intelligence officers at the Iranian consulate. in the largest city in the country.
Arriving by phone on Tuesday after the indictment was released, Alinejad, also known as Masoumeh Alinejad, said he was in shock.
She said she had been working with the Federal Bureau of Investigation since the agency approached her eight months ago with photographs taken by the conspirators.
“They showed me that the Islamic Republic had come very close,” he said.
U.S. Manhattan Prosecutor Announces Kidnapping Hostages Against Iranian Intelligence Officer and Members of an Iranian Intelligence Network https://t.co/26n3II71Zz@FBI @NewYorkFBI pic.twitter.com/mfYYhHffYm
– United States Lawyer SDNY (@SDNYnews) July 13, 2021
Alinejad said he had wiped out Iran’s anger by advertising women in Iran protesting laws requiring headscarves, as well as accounts of Iranians killed in 2019 demonstrations.
Alinejad said FBI agents moved her and her husband to a number of safe houses while investigating the case.
She said she was still hesitant to read the indictment.
“I can’t believe she’s not even safe in the United States,” he said.
The Quincy Institute identifies Alinejad as a U.S. government contractor, in addition to her work as a “presenter, writer, reporter” for VOA’s Persian Service.
Alinejad reportedly received more than $ 305,000 in contracts for his work at VOA Persia between May 2015 and September 10, 2019, according to the Quincy Institute, a think tank based in Washington, DC.
The news of the plot also comes when Iran announced on Tuesday that it was holding talks prisoner exchanges with the US with the goal of securing the release of Iranians detained in U.S. and other prisons for violations of U.S. sanctions.
“Negotiations are underway on the exchange of prisoners between Iran and America, and we will issue more information if Iranian prisoners are released and the country’s interests are guaranteed and talks come to a conclusion,” government spokesman Ali said. Rabies.