• Maibort Petit


Updated: Aug 18, 2021

US accuses Iranian intelligence officials of conspiring to kidnap a dissident journalist based in New York, take her to Venezuela, and then send her to Iran for jailing


Federal prosecutors have accused four Iranian intelligence agents of conspiring to kidnap a Brooklyn author and human rights activist and bring her to Iran via Venezuela.

By Maibort Petit

A Federal Court in New York unveiled an indictment charging four Iranian nationals with conspiracies related to kidnapping, sanctions violations, bank and wire fraud and money laundering. A co-conspirator and resident of California, also of Iran, faces additional structuring charges.

Journalist and Human Rights activist Masih Alinejad

The journalist was not named in court documents, but it was learned that Masih Alinejad was the target. A source familiar with the case identified Alinejad as the target activist of the conspiracy. According to the lawsuit, Alireza Shavaroghi Farahani, alias Vezerat Salimi and Haj Ali, 50; Mahmoud Khazein, 42; Kiya Sadeghi, 35; and Omid Noori, 45, all from Iran, conspired to kidnap a Brooklyn journalist and human rights activist working to mobilize public opinion in Iran and around the world to bring about change in the laws and practices of the Ayatollahs' regime. Niloufar Bahadorifar, also known as Nellie Bahadorifar, 46, originally from Iran and currently resident in California, is alleged to have provided financial services that backed up the plot. "Everyone in the United States should be free from harassment, threats, and physical harm by foreign powers," Acting Assistant Attorney General Mark J. Lesko of the Justice Department's Homeland Security Division said in a statement to the press. Lesko argued that: "Through this indictment, we brought to light a pernicious plot to harm an American citizen who was exercising her First Amendment rights, and we pledge to bring the defendants to justice." "As alleged, four of the defendants monitored and planned to kidnap an Iranian-born U.S. citizen[Masih Alinejad]who had been critical of the regime's autocracy, and sought to forcibly take her to Iran, where the fate of the victim would have been uncertain at best." said U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss of the Southern District of New York. Strauss argued that: "Among the most cherished freedoms of this country (U.S.) there is the right to speak one's mind without fear of reprisals 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. Thanks to the FBI's exposure of their alleged plan, these defendants have failed to silence criticism through forced kidnapping," he said. "As alleged in this indictment, the government of Iran ordered several state actors to conspire to kidnap the journalist [Masih Alinejad] and conduct surveillance on U.S. soil, all with the intent to lure our citizen back to Iran in retaliation for having made use of the right to free speech," said Deputy Director Alan E. Kohler Jr. of the FBI's Counterintelligence Division. Kohler said: "We will use all the tools at our disposal to aggressively investigate the foreign activities of operatives plotting to kidnap a U.S. citizen just because iran's government did not approve of the victim's criticism of the regime." The case According to the lawsuit against the network consisting of Farahani, an Iranian intelligence official residing in Iran, Khazein, Sadeghi and Noori, active Iranian intelligence agents residing in Iran and working under Farahani's orders, since at least June 2020, planned to kidnap an Iranian-American citizen (Victim-1) within the United States in support of the Iranian government's efforts to silence Masih Alinejad's criticism. against the regime. Alinejad is a journalist who has publicized the human rights abuses of the Iranian regime. Before the kidnapping plot, Iran's government attempted to lure Alinejad to a third country to capture her and hand her over to Iran. In approximately 2018, Iranian government officials attempted to induce Victim-1's relatives, who reside in Iran, to invite the victim to travel to a third country for the apparent purpose of having Victim-1 arrested or detained and transported to Iran for incarceration. Alinejad's relatives did not accept the offer. An electronic device used by Farahani contains, among other things, a photo of Victim-1 along with photos of two other people, who were attracted from third countries and captured by Iranian intelligence, one subsequently executed and the other imprisoned in Iran, and a legend in Farsi that says, "gradually the meeting gets bigger... are you coming or should we go for you?" On multiple occasions in 2020 and 2021, as part of the plot to kidnap Alinejad, Farahani and his network hired the services of private investigators to monitor, photograph and videotape members of victim-1's Brooklyn household. Farahani's network obtained days of surveillance at Victim-1's home and surrounding area, videos and photographs of the victim's family and their associates, surveillance of the victim's residence and installation and access to a live high-definition video broadcast of the Victim. -1 is the house. The network repeatedly insisted on high-quality photographs and video recordings of members of victim-1's household; a large volume of content; photographs of visitors and objects from the house; and descriptions of the body language of the journalist in question. The network also secured surveillance by misrepresenting their identities and the purpose of surveillance to investigators, and laundered money in the United States from Iran to pay for surveillance. Sadeghi acted as the network's main point of contact with private investigators, while Noori facilitated payment to investigators to promote the plot. As part of the kidnapping plot, the intelligence network led by Farahani also investigated methods to transport the journalist out of the United States for delivery to Iran. Sadeghi, for example, investigated a service that offers military-style speedboats for autonomous maritime evacuation outside of New York City and sea travel from New York to Venezuela, a country whose de facto government has friendly relations with Iran. Khazein investigated travel routes from Alinejad's residence to a seafront neighborhood in Brooklyn; the location of Alinejad's residence in relation to Venezuela; and the location of Victim-1's residence in relation to Tehran. The network headed by Farahani has targeted victims in other countries, including Iranian dissidents in Canada, the United Kingdom and the United Arab Emirates, and has worked to seek similar surveillance of those victims. As alleged, Bahadorifar provided financial and other services from the United States to Iranian residents and entities, including Khazein, since approximately 2015. Bahadorifar facilitated access to the U.S. financial system and institutions through the use of card accounts and offered to manage business interests in the United States on behalf of Khazein. Among other things, Bahadorifar had a payment made to a private investigator for the surveillance of Victim-1 on behalf of Khazein. While Bahadorifar is not charged with participating in the kidnapping conspiracy, she is alleged to have provided financial services that backed up the plot and is accused of conspiring to violate sanctions against Iran, committing bank and wire fraud, and laundering money. Federal documents claim That Bahadorifar was also responsible for structuring cash deposits totaling more than about $445,000. Farahani, Khazein, Sadeghi and Noori are accused of: (1) conspiring to kidnap, which carries a maximum sentence of life in prison; (2) conspiring to violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA) and sanctions against the government of Iran, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison; (3) conspiring to commit bank and electronic fraud, which carries a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison; and (4) conspiracy to launder money, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. Bahadorifar is charged with counts two, three and four, and in addition to structuring, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison. The victim speaks Masih Alinejad told NBC, "I've been a target for several years, but this is the first time such a bold plot has been hatched and foiled." In 2020, Alinejad wrote in The Washington Post that she learned of the Iranian regime's intention to kidnap her. "It's been a horrible experience, but I can't say it's been completely unexpected. The regime has tried many forms of intimidation to silence me over the years," he wrote.

author: Maibort Petit at 13:35 No comments: Send by emailWrite a blogShare with TwitterShare with FacebookShare on Pinterest Tags: Alireza Shavaroghi Farahani, Iran Venezuela, Iran and venezuela, Mahmoud Khazein, Maibort petit, Masih Alinejad, Niloufar Bahadorifar, Omid Noori

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