US charges four with plot to kidnap journalist critical of Iran

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US prosecutors have charged four Iranians, alleged to be intelligence operatives, with conspiring to kidnap a New York journalist who was critical of Tehran, according to a Justice Department indictment.

While the indictment, unsealed on Tuesday, did not name the target of the plot, the Reuters news agency has confirmed the person as Iranian-American journalist Masih Alinejad, who has contributed to the Voice of America’s (VOA) Persian-language service and reports on human rights issues in Iran.

Asked by Reuters to confirm that Alinejad was the target of the plot, the Department of Justice (DoJ) declined to comment.

According to the indictment, the four Iranians hired private investigators under false pretences to surveil the unnamed journalist in Brooklyn, videotaping the victim’s family and home as part of a plot to take the person out of the country.

The four defendants planned “to forcibly take their intended victim to Iran, where the victim’s fate would have been uncertain at best,” said US lawyer Audrey Strauss for the Southern District of New York.

In a statement posted on its website, the DoJ identified the suspects as Alireza Shavaroghi Farahani, also known as Vezerat Salimi and Haj Ali, 50; Mahmoud Khazein, 42; Kiya Sadeghi, 35; and Omid Noori, 45, all of whom are Iranian.

According to the indictment, Farahani is an Iranian intelligence official who resides in Iran. Khazein, Sadeghi and Noori are members of Iranian intelligence who also reside in Iran and work under Farahani. They had allegedly been plotting the journalist’s kidnapping from at least June 2020.

Assistant Director Alan E Kohler Jr, from the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division, said the government of Iran “directed a number of state actors” to carry out the kidnapping.

“We will use all the tools at our disposal to aggressively investigate foreign activities by operatives who conspire to kidnap a US citizen just because the government of Iran didn’t approve of the victim’s criticism of the regime.”

A resident of California, Niloufar Bahadorifar, also known as Nellie Bahadorifar, 46, is alleged to have provided financial services that supported the plot.

It is not the first time that Iranian operatives have been accused of going after Iranian dissidents.