A Brooklyn author and Iranian dissident who was the apparent target of an Iranian kidnapping plot said she initially expressed disbelief when the FBI told her of the plan eight months ago.
"I jokingly responded that I am used to receiving death threats daily," Masih Alinejad said in a video posted on Twitter late Tuesday.
She said she grew serious after FBI agents showed her videos and photos taken by the conspirators of her and her family. She appreciates the police protection stationed outside her home, she said. She blames Iranian President Hassan Rouhani for the plot and for the kidnap and execution of others opposed to the regime.
"I am grateful to FBI for foiling the Islamic Republic of Iran's Intelligence Ministry's plot to kidnap me," Alinejad said. "We have been scared of the Islamic regime for a lifetime, but now the Islamic regime is scared of me."
Alinejad, who came to the USA more than a decade ago, has been a strong media voice challenging the Iran regime. She became a U.S. citizen two years ago.
Four people charged with kidnap conspiracy – Alireza Shavaroghi Farahani, 50, Mahmoud Khazein, 42, Kiya Sadeghi, 35, and Omid Noori, 45 – live in Iran and remain at large, prosecutors said in court papers released Tuesday. A fifth defendant, Niloufar Bahadorifar, was accused of financially supporting the plot but not participating in the kidnapping conspiracy. A U.S. resident, she was arrested in California this month and is free on bail, prosecutors said.
“This is not some far-fetched movie plot," FBI Assistant Director William Sweeney said. "We allege a group, backed by the Iranian government, conspired to kidnap a U.S.-based journalist here on our soil and forcibly return her to Iran. Not on our watch."
Alireza Jafarzadeh, deputy director of the Washington office of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, said the case was in line with the regime's track record over the past four decades. Jafarzadeh has been a target of an Iranian surveillance plot that led to U.S. prison terms for two men last year.
"Iran’s ruling, religious fascism has always used terrorism, kidnapping and hostage-taking as well as all its political, diplomatic and economic resources as a tool against the opposition and to advance its criminal policies," he said in an email to USA TODAY. "This regime must be rejected by the international community, and its leaders must be brought to justice for their crimes against humanity."
Documents released Tuesday refer to Alinejad as "Victim 1." The indictment says the defendants monitored and planned to kidnap a "U.S. citizen of Iranian origin" who has criticized the regime’s autocracy. Shavaroghi Farahani is described as an Iranian intelligence official and the three other defendants as Iranian intelligence "assets.”
The plan was to "forcibly take their intended victim to Iran, where the victim’s fate would have been uncertain at best," U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said in a statement.
Khazein researched travel routes from Alinejad’s home to a waterfront neighborhood in Brooklyn, the indictment says, while Sadeghi researched smuggling Alinejad out of New York City by sea for Venezuela – a government with good relations with Iran.
The indictment claims the Iranian government tried to pay Alinejad's relatives in Iran to invite her to travel to a third country, apparently for the purpose of having her seized and taken to Iran to face prison. Her relatives refused, the indictment said.
U.S.-Iranian relations, icy for years, have grown worse. The U.S. military launched airstrikes against Iranian-backed militias in Syria in retaliation for drone attacks, the Pentagon announced Sunday evening. The strikes targeted sites used to launch drone attacks on U.S. personnel and facilities in Iraq, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said in a statement.
State Department spokesman Ned Price said the Biden administration "categorically condemns" the alleged plot.
"There should be no doubt about where this administration, including the State Department, stands," Price said. "We will forcefully defend U.S. citizens and U.S. interests."
Iranian state media made no mention of the kidnapping case.
"A U.S. citizen living in the United States must be able to advocate for human rights without being targeted by foreign intelligence operatives," Strauss said in a statement. "Thanks to the FBI’s exposure of their alleged scheme, these defendants have failed to silence criticism by forcible abduction.”
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Masih Alinejad kidnapping plot: 4 Iranians charged with conspiracy