An Iranian intelligence officer and three suspected members of an Iranian intelligence network have been charged with conspiracy to kidnap a New York-based journalist, the US Department of Justice said on Tuesday.
An indictment in Manhattan federal court alleges the plot was part of a larger plan to lure three people to Canada and a fifth to the UK in Iran. Victims have also been targeted in the United Arab Emirates, authorities said. The identity of the alleged victims has not been disclosed.
According to the indictment, all of the targeted victims had criticized Iran, including the New Yorker, a Brooklyn resident described as a journalist, author and human rights activist who made the government public about human rights violations. committed by Iran.
US lawyer Audrey Strauss said the four defendants indicted in the kidnapping plot “were monitoring and planning to kidnap an Iranian-born US citizen who criticized the regime’s autocracy and forcibly take their victim to Iran, where the fate of the victim would have been uncertain at best ”.
“One of the most cherished freedoms in this country is the right to speak out without fear of reprisal from the government. An American citizen living in the United States must be able to defend human rights without being targeted by foreign intelligence agents, ”she added.
William F Sweeney Jr, the head of the FBI office in New York, noted that the indictment sounded a bit like “a far-fetched movie plot”.
“We allege that a group, backed by the Iranian government, conspired to kidnap a US-based journalist here on our soil and forcibly return her to Iran. Not under our supervision, ”he said.
The Iranian intelligence officer, who remains a fugitive, has been identified as Alireza Shavaroghi Farahani.
Farahani, 50, and three other defendants have attempted since at least June 2020 to abduct the American citizen of Iranian descent who lives in Brooklyn, according to the indictment. If arrested and convicted, the four could all be sentenced to life in prison.
Farahani and the network he repeatedly led in 2020 and 2021 lied about his intentions by hiring private investigators to monitor, photograph and videotape the targeted journalist and his family members, according to the act. charge. He said the surveillance included a high-definition video feed live from the journalist’s home.
The indictment alleged that the Iranian government attempted in 2018 to lure the journalist to a third country so that a capture could be possible, even offering money to the journalist’s relatives in an attempt to make this possible. Relatives, according to the indictment, refused the offer.
Authorities said Iranian intelligence services have already attracted 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 contained a photograph of the New York journalist as well as photos of two other people. These individuals, according to the indictment, were captured by Iranian intelligence services. One was then executed and the other was imprisoned, he added.
The others accused of the kidnapping plot have been identified as Mahmoud Khazein, 42, Kiya Sadeghi, 35, and Omid Noori, 45, all from Iran.
According to the indictment, Sadeghi sought out a service offering military-style speedboats that could perform a sea evacuation out of New York that would eventually reach Venezuela, whose de facto government has friendly relations with Iran.
Khazein, he said, researched travel routes from the journalist’s residence to a waterfront neighborhood in Brooklyn and the location of the journalist’s residence in relation to Venezuela and Tehran.