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Feds Charge 4 in Iran Plot to Kidnap US Journalist, 4 Others

Journalist Masih Alinejad tweeted Tuesday night she was the target of an Iranian intelligence kidnapping attempt
Journalist Masih Alinejad was the target of an Iranian intelligence kidnapping attempt foiled by the FBI. (Wiktor Dabkowski/AP)

By    |   Wednesday, 14 July 2021 09:02 AM EDT

An Iranian intelligence officer and three alleged members of an Iranian intelligence network have been charged in Manhattan with plotting to lure a U.S. journalist and human rights activist from New York to Iran.

An indictment unsealed in Manhattan federal court Tuesday alleges the 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. The identities of the alleged victims were not released.

According to the indictment, all of the targeted victims had been critical of Iran, including the New Yorker, a Brooklyn resident described as a journalist, author, and human rights activist who has publicized the government of Iran's human rights abuses.

Masih Alinejad acknowledged she was the target in a series of tweets Tuesday night:

"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."

Alinejad told Reuters after the indictment was released that she was in a state of 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 plotters.

"They showed me the Islamic Republic had gotten very close," she said.

The four Iranians hired private investigators under false pretenses to surveil the journalist in Brooklyn, videotaping her family and home as part of a plot to kidnap her, according to prosecutors.

Audrey Strauss, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, said the four defendants charged in the kidnapping plot "monitored and planned to kidnap a U.S. citizen of Iranian origin who has been critical of the regime’s autocracy, and to forcibly take their intended victim to Iran, where the victim’s fate would have been uncertain at best."

"Among this country’s most cherished freedoms is the right to speak one’s mind without fear of government reprisal. A U.S. citizen living in the United States must be able to advocate for human rights without being targeted by foreign intelligence operatives," she added.

"Every person in the United States must be free from harassment, threats and physical harm by foreign powers," acting U.S. Assistant Attorney General Mark J. Lesko said. "Through this indictment, we bring to light one such pernicious plot to harm an American citizen who was exercising their First Amendment rights."

Although not charged in the kidnapping plot, Niloufar Bahadorifar, also known as Nellie, was arrested July 1 in California on charges that she has provided U.S. financial and other services to Iranian residents and entities and some financial services supported the plot and violated sanctions against Iran, according to a release.

The indictment said Bahadorifar, 46, originally from Iran, works at a California department store. Bahadorifar's lawyer, Assistant Federal Defender Martin Cohen, declined to comment.

Bahadorifar has pleaded not guilty to charges lodged at the time of her arrest and been released on bail, authorities said. She still faces arraignment on charges in Tuesday's superseding indictment.

The rest of the defendants are fugitives believed to be based in Iran, authorities said.

William F. Sweeney Jr., the head of New York's FBI office, noted the indictment sounded a bit like "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," he said.

In fact, the alleged scheme parallels the plot of the 2020 movie "Infidel," which stars Jim Caviezel in a tale about an outspoken American reporter who is kidnapped while visiting Egypt and put on trial in Iran on false espionage charges.

The Iranian intelligence officer, who remains a fugitive, was identified as Alireza Shavaroghi Farahani.

Farahani, 50, and three other defendants tried since at least June 2020 to kidnap the U.S. citizen of Iranian origin who lives in Brooklyn, the indictment said. If caught and convicted, the four could all face life in prison.

Farahani and the network he led on multiple occasions in 2020 and 2021 lied about his intentions as he hired private investigators to surveil, photograph and video record the targeted journalist and his household members, the indictment said. It said the surveillance included a live high-definition video feed of the journalist's home.

The indictment alleged that the government of Iran in 2018 tried to lure the journalist to a third country so a capture would be possible, even offering money to the journalist's relatives to try to make it possible. The relatives, the indictment said, refused the offer.

Authorities said Iranian intelligence services has previously lured other Iranian dissidents from France and the United States to capture and imprison critics of the Iranian regime and have publicly claimed responsibility for the capture operations.

They noted, as did the indictment, that an electronic device used by Farahani contains a photograph of the New York journalist alongside pictures of two other individuals. Those individuals, the indictment said, were captured by Iranian intelligence authorities. One was later executed and the other was imprisoned, it said.

The others charged in the kidnapping plot were identified as Mahmoud Khazein, 42, Kiya Sadeghi, 35, and Omid Noori, 45, all from Iran.

According to the indictment, Sadeghi researched a service offering military-style speedboats that could perform a maritime evacuation out of New York City that would ultimately reach Venezuela, whose de facto government has friendly relations with Iran.

Khazein, it said, researched travel routes from the journalist's residence to a waterfront neighborhood in Brooklyn and the location of the journalist's residence relative to Venezuela and Tehran.

Reporting from Reuters and The Associated Press was used in compiling this report.

© 2024 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

An Iranian intelligence officer and three alleged members of an Iranian intelligence network have been charged in Manhattan with plotting to lure a U.S. journalist and human rights activist from New York to Iran.
iranian, kidnapping, plot, fbi, journalist, intelligence, human rights, activist
Wednesday, 14 July 2021 09:02 AM
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