Iranian-born and New York-based journalist and women’s rights activist Masih Alinejad, the target of an alleged plot by Iranian intelligence agents to kidnap her from New York City and ship her off to Iran, said Wednesday she is "disappointed" in the lack of an official response from President Joe Biden about her plight.
"The FBI did a great job to make me feel safe here, but to be honest, I'm a little bit disappointed with Biden's administration because I'm still waiting for them to take strong action," Alinejad told CNN's "New Day." "When Jamal Khashoggi got brutally murdered, the whole world made statements of condemnations. I need the same, because another regime in the Middle East, the Islamic republic, was trying to kidnap me."
Tuesday, the four Iranians, described as an intelligence officer and three members of an intelligence network, were charged with plotting to lure Alinejad, whose name wasn't listed in the indictment, and four others, from New York to Iran. The Iranian government, just after Alinejad's CNN interview, denied involvement, saying "this is not the first time" the United States has attempted to use "Hollywood scenarios" against it.
The State Department is to hold a news conference later Wednesday, but CNN reports the Biden administration said in a statement it will "continue to call out and stand up to Iran's human rights abuses and will support others who do so both here and in Iran."
According to the indictment unsealed in Manhattan federal court Tuesday, the plot was part of a wider plan to lure three individuals in Canada and a fifth person in the United Kingdom to Iran. Authorities said there were other victims targeted in the United Arab Emirates.
Alinejad confirmed on Twitter she was one of the targets and told CNN that she wants the Biden administration to "be strong. Instead of just going after them, having a deal with them, they have to care about human rights as well."
The Justice Department has charged four Iranian nationals — Alireza Shavaroghi Farahani, aka Vezerat Salimi and Haj Ali, 50; Mahmoud Khazein, 42; Kiya Sadeghi, 35; and Omid Noori, 45 — with conspiracies including kidnapping, sanctions violations, bank and wire fraud, and money laundering.
The four suspects all live in Iran and remain at large, the prosecutors said. A fifth person, a woman accused of supporting the plot but not participating in the kidnapping conspiracy itself, has been arrested in California.
Audrey Strass, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, said in a statement that the defendants "monitored and planned to kidnap a U.S. Citizen of Iranian origin who has been critical of the regime's autocracy and forcibly take the victim to Iran where her fate would have been uncertain at best."
Alinejad is known for founding the "White Wednesdays" campaign in Iran. With it, she encourages women to post photographs of themselves without headscarves online to oppose the compulsory hijab. Iran's government has threatened women who participate with arrest and imprisonment.
Alinejad said she only learned about the full details of the plot against her Tuesday night, but she learned about the threat to her eight months ago.
Last year, she wrote in an article for The Washington Post that Iranian government officials had unleashed a social media campaign and called for her abduction.
"The FBI came to my house about eight months ago and they were telling me that this house is not safe for you," she said. "I was like, you must be kidding me, because I receive daily death threats. What's new? I'm here in America. They cannot do anything."
Then the FBI showed her photographs that had been taken "of my private life with my husband, my stepchildren, my beautiful garden in Brooklyn. I was like, wow, so the government is that close to me? Then I took it seriously."
The photographer taking the pictures was an American investigator the Iranians hired, who "didn't know anything."
"I saw the picture of myself, I got goosebumps because I was watering my son's flowers," she said. "They took pictures of my stepchildren. I don't want to scare them if they're looking at me. But they did, and they took pictures of my husband ... I was shocked that they were following me, filming me. They were actually following my friends and taking old photos and videos to see which way I go every day. I'm not scared of being dead or being executed, but what scares me, that the whole world keeps silent about such a regime, and allowing them to have such oppression in the United States of America. That is more scary."
She said she and her family were sent to a safe house, and she's been under the FBI's protection since then.
"We actually changed different safe houses for three months because the FBI actually arrested the investigator, the one who was taking photos of me and they asked me to work with them, like go in a safe house, (and) go live on Instagram without mentioning the location because the FBI was trying to find out whether they were going to follow me and find me my new place, and they did."
She said she finds it "unbelievable" that in New York City, the Iranians were able to threaten and follow her, "an American-Iranian citizen, here in the land of the United States of America. And I was shocked because, you know, we've heard so many times, people, Iranian dissidents targeted by Iranian officials in Europe ... actually the FBI told me this is the first time in the history they actually chased and followed an Iranian citizen in the United States of America."
Alinejad added that the details that she has learned included that the plotters were "following me to take me, to grab me to a boat to Venezuela. I was like, wow, so that was the plan? But what is the most shocking thing for me here, that they even arrested someone in America ... there was no background check, nothing. A lady who got arrested lives in California."
She added that she's not the first person the Islamic Republica was trying to kidnap, as one Iranian journalist was tricked from leaving France to Iraq.
"They kidnapped him from there, and they executed him," Alinejad said "So when the FBI actually told me that you're not allowed to travel abroad, I was like, oh, my God, I wish some police in France warned him and said, you're not allowed to go to Iraq. So, you see, that breaks my heart that this keeps happening, for 40 years, but none of the government takes serious action."
Meanwhile, Alinejad said she is sure the police are protecting her, but matters are not safe.
"Right now that I'm talking to you, the U.S. citizens, British citizens, Swedish citizens, German citizens, French citizens are being (held) hostage in the hands of the Iranian government and the government in Iran is using them like a bargaining chip to bring the western government under the table about the nuclear deal. And now they're trying to kidnap an American Iranian citizen from New York to use me as a bargaining chip or, I don't know, execute me."
She said she doesn't want to say the Iranian government is scared of her because of her activism, but it is her job to tell the stories about the oppressed.
"I have 5 million followers on my Instagram. I have 1 million on Facebook," she said. "What I do is give voice to these people. I want to actually show that. I give voice to these mothers...these mothers have never been heard in any media. So they send me videos, and I give them a voice. Is this like crime?"
She added that the mothers whose stories she shares are her heroes.
"Those are the Rosa Parks of Iran," said Alinejad. "They are my heroes. To be honest, I have fear inside me, but what gives me power, these people. I am going to stop my activities the day when Iranian people stop saying no to the Islamic Republic."
Sandy Fitzgerald ✉
Sandy Fitzgerald has more than three decades in journalism and serves as a general assignment writer for Newsmax covering news, media, and politics.
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