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FBI foils Iranian attempt to kidnap journalist for anti-regime actions

A federal indictment from the Southern District of New York, obtained by the Dark Wire, uncovers the government of Iran’s plans to kidnap, imprison and possibly execute Iranian American journalist and activist Masih Alinejad.

Referred to simply as “Victim 1” in the document, Masih Alinejad has identified herself as the target of the foiled plan.

The unsealed indictment charges five individuals who are suspected to have taken part in the plan. Four are listed as connected to Iranian intelligence services, and the fifth was a department store worker in California.

The charges are against Alireza Shahvaroghi Farahani, an Iranian intelligence officer, and Mahmoud Khazein, Kiya Sadeghi and Omid Noori, all “intelligence assets,” according to the indictment. They are charged with conspiracy to kidnap, conspiracy to violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, conspiracy to commit bank and wire fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering. The fifth defendant, Niloufar Bahadorifar, was additionally charged with structuring, but not conspiracy to kidnap.

As early as 2018, the alleged kidnappers attempted to abduct Alinejad by having her family members still living in Iran invite her to a third country. Her relatives were offered money in exchange for performing this act, but they refused.

In September 2019, one of her family members in Iran was arrested because of their connection with Alinejad, the document states. They were later sentenced to eight years in jail.

The Iranian government, however, did not stop their plot when it realized that she and her family were not easily intimidated:

“On multiple occasions in 2020 and 2021, agents of the Government of Iran procured the services of private investigators to surveil, photograph, and video record [Alinejad] and [Alinejad’s] household members in Brooklyn, New York, as part of the plot to kidnap [Alinejad] for rendition to Iran,” the indictment reads. “These agents of the Government of Iran procured the surveillance by misrepresenting their identities and the purpose of the surveillance to the investigators and laundered money into the United States from Iran.”

The would-be kidnappers also investigated routes to and from Alinejad’s private residence in Brooklyn to Venezuela, whose government has “friendly relations with the regime in Iran.”

The four defendants living in Iran are still at large, while Bahadorifar, who was supportive of the scheme but did not directly participate except to launder the money required for the plot, has now been arrested in California. Police security has been provided at Alinejad’s home.

“I’m not so used to being protected by the police,” Alinejad said in a now-viral video she posted on Twitter. “Every time I see them, I assume it’s to arrest me…. But it imbues me with a feeling of safety when I see the police protect me. This wouldn’t have happened in my homeland.”

This is not the first time the Iranian government has attempted a similar plot.

Ruhollah Zam was a refugee in France in October 2019 when Iranian intelligence deceived him into leaving the country. While abroad, he was captured and brought back to Iran, where he was imprisoned and then murdered in December 2020.

The head of Iran’s Ministry for Intelligence and Security, Mahmoud Alavi, has publicly said that many “complex operations in striking dissidents” have taken place.

According to the U.S. Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, the Ministry for Intelligence and Security in Iran is “responsible for or complicit in the commission of serious human rights abuses against the Iranian people and the Syrian people and for its support to terrorist groups, including al Qaeda, al Qaeda in Iraq, Hezbollah and Hamas…. MOIS agents are responsible for beatings, sexual abuse, prolonged interrogations, and coerced confessions of prisoners, particularly political prisoners.”

The Iranian foreign minister, however, said that the allegations in this indictment are “baseless and ridiculous,” a “Hollywood-style scenario” unworthy of entertaining.

“This is not some far-fetched movie plot,” stated William Sweeney, head of the FBI New York office.

“A U.S. citizen living in the United States must be able to advocate for human rights without being targeted by foreign intelligence operatives,” U.S. attorney and author of the indictment Audrey Strauss told The New York Times.

“I’m so grateful to FBI for foiling the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Intelligence Ministry’s plot to kidnap me,” Alinejad tweeted.

In an interview with The New York Times, Alinejad said the incident “shows that [the Iranian regime is] not scared of America — they’re scared of me. Otherwise, they would not send anyone here to kidnap me.”

Madeleine Rafael

Madeleine Rafael

Student at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University. Dog lover. Washington Nationals and Capitals fan. Walking Broadway encyclopedia. You can follow Madeleine Rafael on Twitter and Instagram @MRafaelJourno.