4 Iranians Indicted in Manhattan for Alleged Plot to Kidnap Outspoken Iranian American Journalist: DOJ

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - APRIL 12: (L-R) Masih Alinejad speaks during the 10th Anniversary Women In The World Summit at David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center on April 12, 2019 in New York City.
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"I am grateful to the FBI for foiling the Islamic Republic of Iran's Intelligence Ministry's plot to kidnap me," Masih Alinejad said in a video from her Brooklyn home.

Four Iranian nationals have been charged in Manhattan with an alleged plot to kidnap an Iranian-American journalist who published material critical of the Iranian regime, according to the Department of Justice (DOJ).

Masih Alinejad, an outspoken advocate for women’s rights and a critic of human rights abuses in her native country, announced on Twitter late Tuesday that she was one of the intended targets. Her husband, Kambiz Foroohar, had also confirmed to CBS News that she was among the targets, CBS News reported.

"I am grateful to the FBI for foiling the Islamic Republic of Iran's Intelligence Ministry's plot to kidnap me," she said in a video from her Brooklyn home.

The charges are contained in a Superseding Indictment unsealed in a Manhattan federal court on Tuesday revealing that Alireza Shavaroghi Farahani, aka Vezerat Salimi and Haj Ali, 50; Mahmoud Khazein, 42; Kiya Sadeghi, 35; and Omid Noori, 45, all of Iran, conspired to kidnap the Brooklyn-based journalist, CNN reported.

The four were charged with conspiracies related to kidnapping, sanctions violations, bank and wire fraud, and money laundering, according to the indictment. They are based in Iran and remain at large, according to the DOJ statement.

A fifth person, Niloufar “Nellie” Bahadorifar, was also charged with sanctions violations conspiracy, bank and wire fraud conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy, and structuring charges for allegedly providing financial services that supported the plot, the Department of Justice said. She has pleaded not guilty and has been released on bail, The Washington Post reported.

Bahadorifar, who is originally from Iran but resides in California, was arrested on July 1 in California and arraigned on July 8, prosecutors said, CNN reported.

According to a press release from the Department of Justice announcing the charges, the government of Iran had previously “attempted to lure Victim-1 to a third country in order to capture Victim-1 for rendition to Iran,” and in 2018 tried to “induce relatives of Victim-1, who reside in Iran, to invite the victim to travel to a third country for the apparent purpose of having Victim-1 arrested or detained and transported to Iran for imprisonment.”

The Justice Department noted that the relatives “did not accept the offer,” according to the release.

Prosecutors said the charged intelligence officials used private investigators throughout 2020 and 2021 to track, photograph and record video of the journalist and household members of the victim, including through “the installation of and access to a live high-definition video feed of Victim-1’s home,” The Hill reported. 

Authorities said that as part of the alleged kidnapping plot, the group of Iranian nationals conducted research on how to potentially transport the person out of the U.S. and into Iran, the news outlet said.

The alleged plot was part of a wider plan to lure three individuals in Canada and a fifth person in the United Kingdom to Iran. Victims were also targeted in the United Arab Emirates, authorities said, according to the Department of Justice.

US Attorney for the Southern District of New York Audrey Strauss said on Tuesday in a Department of Justice news release that if the group had been successful in forcibly taking the journalist to Iran, “the victim’s fate would have been uncertain at best.” 

Alinejad wrote in a Washington Post opinion piece published last year that Iranian government officials had launched a social media campaign advocating for her abduction, The Hill reported.

“It’s been a horrifying experience, but I can’t say that it’s been entirely unexpected,”  The regime has tried many forms of intimidation to silence me over the years,” she wrote.

In the piece, she spoke of how she fled the country in 2009 and continued to criticize the Islamic Republic’s human rights abuses and undemocratic ways.

Since 2014, she said she has lived in New York where she writes, manages several social media sites, and hosts a weekly satirical TV show on Voice of America’s Persian service. Through these channels, she said, she provides a platform for the voiceless people in Iran who on a daily basis share their videos with her.

“The regime’s cruel treatment of women remains one of its biggest weaknesses, and my focus on related injustices explains why it remains so persistent in targeting me. Yet this latest campaign represents an ominous escalation,” she wrote.

FBI Assistant Director William 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,” he said.  "Not on our watch.”

Alinejad told The Associated Press, "I knew that this is the nature of the Islamic Republic, you know, kidnapping people, arresting people, torturing people, killing people. But I couldn't believe it that this is going to happen to me in the United States of America,” CBS reported.

Despite the danger she is in, she expressed gratitude for the officers who have been outside her home for the last two weeks, adding that “I’m not used to this.” She referenced that they are even there when she goes outside "to check on her flowers in her garden.”

“It imbues me with a feeling of safety when I see the police protect me,” she said. “This wouldn’t have happened in my homeland.”

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