Four men accused of trying to kidnap an Iranian American journalist are facing charges, according to the federal government. Brooklyn-based Masih Alinejad, who has been critical of the Iranian government, revealed she was the target and said she would not stop her work, "I give voice to voiceless people. This is my job."
The men, allegedly Iranian intelligence operatives, are at large.
"As alleged, four of the defendants 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," Audrey Strauss, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, said in a statement. "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. Thanks to the FBI’s exposure of their alleged scheme, these defendants have failed to silence criticism by forcible abduction."
Alinejad was not named in the federal complaint, but she tweeted about the incident after the indictment was unsealed:
She told the NY Times that the incident "shows that [the Iranian government is] not scared of America — they’re scared of me... Otherwise, they would not send anyone here to kidnap me."
According to the feds, the Iranian government had plotted to lure Alinejad back to Iran, in an attempt to arrest her in 2018, including offering her relatives money to invite her to visit a third country. More recently, Alireza Shavaroghi Farahani, Mahmoud Khazein, Kiya Sadeghi, and Omid Noori—who they describe as "intelligence assets"—were allegedly actively planning to kidnap her. A press release from the Southern District notes that Farahani had a photo of her on an electronic device, "alongside photos of two other individuals, both of whom were captured by Iranian intelligence, with one later executed and the other imprisoned in Iran."
On multiple occasions in 2020 and 2021, as part of the plot to kidnap Victim-1, FARAHANI and his network procured the services of private investigators to surveil, photograph, and video record Victim-1 and Victim-1’s household members in Brooklyn. The extensive surveillance that FARAHANI’s network procured included requests for days’ worth of surveillance at Victim-1’s home and the surrounding area, videos and photographs of Victim-1’s family and associates, surveillance of Victim-1 outside Victim-1’s residence, and the installation of and access to a live high-definition video feed depicting Victim-1’s home. The network repeatedly insisted on high-quality photographs and video recordings of Victim-1 and Victim-1’s household members; a large volume of content; pictures of visitors and objects around the house; and depictions of Victim-1’s body language. The network 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 in order to pay for the surveillance, photos, and video recordings of Victim-1. SADEGHI acted as the network’s primary point of contact with the private investigators in the United States, and NOORI facilitated payment to the investigators in furtherance of the plot targeting Victim-1.
The complaint states that the group also looked into ways to extract Alinejad from the U.S., by researching "a service offering military-style speedboats for self-operated maritime evacuation out of New York City, and maritime travel from New York to Venezuela, a country whose de facto government has friendly relations with Iran" and "travel routes from Victim-1’s residence to a waterfront neighborhood in Brooklyn, the location of Victim-1’s residence relative to Venezuela, and the location of Victim-1’s residence relative to Tehran."
On CNN Tuesday morning, Alinejad described how the U.S. authorities let her know she was being surveilled by the suspects, and how it was shocking that they had been so close to her home:
"This is not some far-fetched movie plot," FBI Assistant Director William F. Sweeney Jr. said. "FBI special agents and analysts will continue to aggressively hunt for foreign operatives who attempt illegal action inside our borders or against our citizens. Working side-by-side with our international partners, the FBI’s reach is global. When we find you, you will be brought here and held accountable under U.S. law.”