Iranian operatives planned to abduct a New York-based Iranian American journalist and activist, federal prosecutors in the US say.
According to an indictment unsealed in federal court in Manhattan on Tuesday, four Iranians have been charged with plotting the kidnap. Although the intended victim was not identified by prosecutors, Brooklyn-based Masih Alinejad says she was the target.
Speaking to the New York Times, she said the indictment showed the Iran is “not scared of America – they’re scared of me. Otherwise, they would not send anyone here to kidnap me.”
The four defendants – Alireza Shavaroghi Farahani, aka Vezerat Salimi and Haj Ali, 50; Mahmoud Khazein, 42; Kiya Sadeghi, 35; and Omid Noori, 45 – all live in Iran. A fifth person has been charged in connection with the case, accused of providing financial support, but not involvement in the kidnap conspiracy itself: California resident Niloufar Bahadorifar, aka Nellie Bahadorifar, 46, has been arrested and bailed.
According to the indictment, Farahani is an Iranian intelligence official while the other three principal defendants are intelligence assets who worked under him. They are accused of plotting to kidnap Alinejad since at least June 2020. Prior to this they planned to induce relatives to help lure her to a third country in the Middle East.
The indictment says that the alleged plotters placed Alinejad’s home under surveillance, including via a live high-definition video feed of her property. They are also accused of researching a service offering military-style speedboats, as well as maritime routes between New York and Venezuela – an ally of Iran.
The head of the FBI’s office in New York, William Sweeney, acknowledged that the plan sounded like “some far-fetched movie plot”.
“We allege a group, backed by the Iranian government, conspired to kidnap a US based journalist here on our soil and forcibly return her to Iran,” he said. “Not on our watch.”