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The Justice Department announced on Friday that three arrests had been made regarding an alleged murder-for-hire scheme to kill a journalist based in New York City and human rights activist who criticized the government of Iran.
According to a filing, the DOJ asserted that the three men who were arrested were part of an Eastern European criminal organization with links to Tehran and were tasked with killing the individual who is a U.S. citizen born in Iran and who previously was a target of intimidation, harassment, and a kidnapping plot by the government of Iran.
“The department said the victim, who has publicly identified herself as American journalist Masih Alinejad, has published stories about human rights abuses and political suppression committed by the Iranian government, including during recent nationwide protests in the country,” Axios reported.
“In a 25-page indictment unsealed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, defendants Rafat Amirov, Polad Omarov and Khalid Mehdiyev, who also went by several aliases and codenames, are charged with murder-for-hire, money-laundering and conspiracy,” the outlet added.
On Friday, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said the journalist, who has publicly identified herself as Masih Alinejad, published articles detailed alleged human rights abuses and political suppression by the Iranian government, especially during nationwide protests that recently occurred throughout the country.
“The Victim in this case was targeted for exercising the rights to which every American citizen is entitled. The Victim publicized the Iranian Government’s human rights abuses; discriminatory treatment of women; suppression of democratic participation and expression; and use of arbitrary imprisonment, torture, and execution,” Garland said.
“The Department of Justice will not tolerate attempts by an authoritarian regime to undermine those protections and the rule of law upon which our democracy is based. We will not tolerate attempts by a foreign power to threaten, silence, or harm Americans. We will stop at nothing to identify, find, and bring to justice those who endanger the safety of the American people.”
Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen said: “Today’s charges underscore the Department’s commitment to protecting Americans and our fundamental values in the face of all forms of transnational repression. To foreign actors who plot violence on our soil believing they are out of reach, know that we will pursue you, wherever you may be, until we deliver justice.”
“The law enforcement action today is the latest U.S. disruption of plotting activities against this victim and other Americans,” White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan added in a statement. “It 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.”
FBI Director Christopher A. Wray said: “The indictment unsealed today reflects the FBI’s commitment to follow the facts wherever they lead, to work our way up to the leaders of criminal plots wherever they are, and to use our long reach to bring those responsible here to face justice in the United States. The conduct charged shows how far Iranian actors are willing to go to silence critics, even attempting to assassinate a U.S. citizen on American soil. We are determined to safeguard the rights of all Americans from the oppressive reach of hostile regimes.”
U.S. Attorney Damian Williams noted in a statement: “As alleged, the defendants are members of an organized crime group hired to assassinate, right here in New York City, a U.S. citizen of Iranian origin who has been critical of the regime’s autocracy and its disregard for human rights. This is the second time in the past two years that this Office and our partners at the FBI have disrupted plots originating from within Iran to kidnap or kill this victim for the ‘crime’ of exercising the right to free speech, to independent political thought, and to advocating for the rights of the oppressed and disenfranchised inside Iran. Thanks to the extraordinary efforts of the career prosecutors and FBI agents who led the investigation, this new plot to silence the victim has been disrupted and the defendants will face justice in an American court.”