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Iranian Agents Indicted for Conspiracy to Abduct American Journalist

Iranian-American journalist and human rights activist Masih Alinejad details how the FBI protected her against a Tehran-ordered kidnapping plot. CREDIT: Twitter/AlinejadMasih

The Department of Justice (DOJ) on Tuesday announced that it was indicting members of Iranian Intelligence Services for a plot to kidnap an American journalist and human rights activist. The charges against four Iranian nationals include conspiracy related to kidnapping, sanctions, violations, bank and wire fraud, and money laundering, according to a statement released by the agency.

From the DOJ report:

According to court documents, 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 a Brooklyn journalist, author and human rights activist for mobilizing public opinion in Iran and around the world to bring about changes to the regime’s laws and practices. Niloufar Bahadorifar, aka Nellie Bahadorifar, 46, originally of Iran and currently residing in California, is alleged to have provided financial services that supported the plot.

U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss of the Southern District of New York stated 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 to forcibly take their intended victim to Iran, where the victim’s fate would have been uncertain at best.”

The indictment alleges that Tehran directed its agents to hatch a plan to abduct the journalist “as retaliation for their freedom of expression,” according to Assistant Director Alan E. Kohler Jr. of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division.”

Masih Alinejad, the journalist who the Iranian regime was targeting, chimed in on the announcement on Twitter. She wrote:

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

In a video attached to the tweet, Alinejad explained that law enforcement had been stationed outside of her home for two weeks. They did not tell her right away why they were present, but they later informed her of the plot.

According to the DOJ’s statement, planning for the operation to kidnap Alinejad began in June 2020 as part of an effort to silence her constant criticism of the Iranian regime. Indeed, the journalist has been a vocal critic of Tehran’s authoritarian abuses of human rights against its citizens. The country’s government has also victimized members of her family.

Before hatching the plot to kidnap Alinejad, Iranian agents first tried to lure her to a different country. The report explains:

In approximately 2018, Iranian government officials attempted 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.

In the statement, “Victim 1” refers to Alinejad. Her relatives did not accept the regime’s offer. An electronic device used by one of the operatives contained photos of Alinejad with two other individuals. Both of these people were successfully lured to other countries, where they were later captured. One was executed, and the other is imprisoned. A caption in Farsi read: “Gradually the gathering gets bigger … are you coming, or should we come for you?”

The statement reveals an extensive surveillance operation in which Iran’s agents used various methods to keep track of Alinejad’s movements. They went so far as to use American private investigators to keep tabs on the journalist.

It is fortunate that American operatives discovered and foiled this alleged plot. But it raises a question: Since when does a country like Iran work up the gumption to attempt the abduction of an American citizen on American soil?

It might be tempting to assume that the regime was emboldened by the prospect of a weak president like Joe Biden in office. However, the agents began concocting the scheme in 2020 when President Donald Trump still occupied the White House.

Either way, could this be the beginning of a trend in which Iran begins flexing its muscles more frequently and aggressively? So far, President Biden has not issued a statement condemning the kidnapping plot. Indeed, on the day that the news broke, he waived sanctions on the Iranian regime, allowing them to gain access to funds from South Korea and Japan.

Even worse, despite Iran’s conduct, the president still wishes to move forward with the resurrection of the nuclear deal. Politico reported that “a U.S. official familiar with the issue said the Biden administration will keep pursuing the nuclear agreement’s revival.”

The question remains: If Tehran was willing to be this bold while Trump was still in office, how much worse will they get when they know they are dealing with a president who is friendlier to their objectives?