Third suspect in plot to kill Iranian American author on US soil extradited to face charges

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A suspect charged in a plot to kill an Iranian American author and activist has been extradited from the Czech Republic to face charges, the Justice Department said Wednesday.

Polad Omarov was arrested by Czech officials in January 2023, when charges were announced against him and two other men in the alleged plot to kill Masih Alinejad, an Iranian opposition activist who has spoken out against human rights abuses there. U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland announced Omarov's extradition Wednesday, nearly 13 months after the indictment in the case was unsealed.

"The Department of Justice will not tolerate attempts by an authoritarian regime to undermine the rights to which every American citizen is entitled,” Garland said in the statement.

Phone calls to an attorney representing Omarov, who had spent the last year fighting extradition, rang unanswered. An email message seeking comment was also not immediately returned.

The other two men, Rafat Amirov of Iran and Khalid Mahdiyev of Yonkers, New York, were also charged with money laundering and murder-for-hire in federal court in New York. Both men pleaded not guilty last year.

Charges against a fourth man, Zialat Mamedov, were added in a revised indictment in May 2023. Justice Department officials said at the time that Mamedov was also in the custody of Czech authorities.

Alinejad, an Iranian opposition activist, journalist and writer in exile in New York City, confirmed to The Associated Press in 2023 that she was the intended target. She had fled Iran following the country's disputed 2009 presidential election.

She is a prominent figure on Farsi-language satellite channels abroad that critically view Iran, and she has worked as a contractor for U.S.-funded Voice of America’s Farsi-language network since 2015. She became a U.S. citizen in October 2019.

In a message posted to X Wednesday, Alinejad said she was joyful and she looked forward to testifying against the men.

“I want to thank the US law enforcement agencies for their vigilance. My adopted country has once again saved me from the murderous regime of my birth country Iran,” she wrote.

The indictment alleges that the men were all part of an Eastern European criminal organization that has ties to Iran. Court documents allege that Amirov was tasked with arranging the murder, and contacted Omarov to help. The two men allegedly contacted the New York-based Mehdiyev, giving him $30,000 in cash.

Mehdiyev was arrested in 2022 after he was found driving around Alinejad’s Brooklyn neighborhood with a loaded “AK-47-style” rifle and dozens of rounds of ammunition.