FBI arrests three men in Iranian murder-for-hire plot of US journalist, activist

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At least three men have been arrested in a murder-for-hire plot allegedly sponsored by Iran that targeted a U.S. journalist and human rights activist who is a prominent critic of Tehran, Attorney General Merrick Garland announced Friday.

All three of the defendants are expected to stand trial, Garland added, with two of the men in U.S. custody and a third awaiting extradition, though he did not say from where.

“These charges arise out of an ongoing investigation into the government of Iran’s efforts to assassinate, on U.S. soil, a journalist, author and human rights activist who is a U.S. citizen of Iranian origin,” Garland said during a press conference.

While Garland did not name the victim, it is believed to be Masih Alinejad, a prominent critic of the Islamic Republic who was earlier the target of a kidnapping plot that was disrupted by the FBI and revealed in an unsealed indictment in July 2021.

Alinejad on Friday identified herself as the victim of the murder-for-hire plot, writing and posting a video on Twitter that she met with 12 FBI agents in New York where she learned that the three men were arrested.

“This is the face of a person who was the target of an assassination plot,” Alinejad said in the video.

“Let me make it clear, I am not scared for my life because I knew that killing, assassinating, hanging, torturing, raping is in the DNA in the Islamic Republic. That’s why I came to the United States of America to practice my right, my freedom of expression to give voice of brave people of Iran to say no to Islamic Republic.”

Garland detailed the plot laid out in the indictment alleging that individuals in Iran tasked Rafat Amirov with carrying out the murder-for-hire plot, with Amirov described as a member of an Eastern European criminal organization with ties to Iran. He is expected to be presented in federal court in New York later today.

Two other individuals, Polad Omarov and Khalid Mehdiyev, are alleged to have been directed by Amirov to carry out the murder plot against Alinejad.

Mehdiyev has been in U.S. custody since July 2022 when he was arrested near the victims home in Brooklyn, New York with an assault rifle, two ammunition magazines, and approximately 66 rounds of ammunition, Garland said.

The U.S. alleges that Mehdiyev was working from instructions by Omarov, who is in the custody of “foreign partners,” Garland said, pending extradition to the United States.

National security advisor Jake Sullivan released a statement Friday responding to the unsealed indictment. While it did not name Alinejad, he has previously met with the human rights activist and spoke with her by phone in July following Mehdiyev’s arrest near her home.

Sullivan said in his statement that the Justice Department’s indictment “follows a disturbing pattern of Iranian Government-sponsored efforts to kill, torture, and intimidate into silence activists for speaking out for the fundamental rights and freedoms of Iranians around the world.”

“Let there be no mistake: The United States will not allow Iran or other authoritarian regimes to export efforts to stifle peaceful dissent through threats and intimidation against those living lawfully in our country,” Sullivan continued. “And we will hold those involved in such activities accountable under the law, just as we are doing today,” he continued.

The government of Iran is also reported to be targeting former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Brian Hook, who served as special envoy for Iran during the Trump administration and continue to receive government protection.

—Updated at 1:14 p.m.

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