by Bernard P. Lawson, The Chicago Times

July 14, 2021

WASHINGTON — According to federal prosecutors, Iranian intelligence operatives planned to kidnap an Iranian-born American author and journalist who is critical of the Tehran regime in New York City for “rendition” to Iran.

Masih Alinejad, a journalist and outspoken women’s rights activist, appears to have been the intended target.  When the Justice Department announced on Tuesday that it had unsealed an indictment “charging four Iranian nationals with conspiracies related to kidnapping, sanctions violations, bank and wire fraud, and money laundering,” it did not name the individual.

According to court documents, Alireza Shahvaroghi Farahani, Mahmoud Khazein, Kiya Sadeghi, and Omid Noori “conspired to kidnap a Brooklyn journalist, author, and human rights activist for mobilizing public opinion in Iran and around the world to bring about changes to the regime’s laws and practices.”

Farahani is an Iranian intelligence official, and Khazein, Sadeghi, and Noori were Iranian intelligence assets working under him, according to the Justice Department.  Niloufar Bahadorifar, an Iranian co-conspirator and California resident, also “provided financial services that supported the plot,” according to the Justice Department.

In court documents, Alinejad is identified as “Victim-1,” and fled Iran in 2009 and settled in New York in 2014.  Following the launch of her popular social media campaigns “My Stealthy Freedom” and “White Wednesdays,” she became increasingly targeted by the Iranian regime.

The first campaign, which encouraged Iranian women to post photos of themselves without their hijab, began in 2014, and the second, which began in 2017, saw Iranian women remove their headscarves or wear white shawls in protest every Wednesday, began in 2017.  The Iranian government told women to “keep their heads low, to be as unobtrusive as possible, and to be meek,” but “I have got too much hair, too much voice, and I am too much of a woman for them,” the VOA Persian TV host wrote in her memoir, The Wind in My Hair: My Fight for Freedom in Modern Iran, published in 2018.

On Tuesday, Mark Lesko, the acting assistant attorney general for the Department of Justice’s national security division, stated that “every person in the United States must be free from harassment, threats, and physical harm by foreign powers . . . through this indictment, we expose one such nefarious plot to harm an American citizen who was exercising their First Amendment rights, and we pledge to prosecute the defendants.”

“The Iranian government has been plotting to kidnap Victim-1 from within the United States since at least June 2020, as part of the regime’s efforts to silence Victim-1.  The new indictment against the Iranian officials claimed that “agents of the Government of Iran procured the services of private investigators on multiple occasions in 2020 and 2021 to surveil, photograph, and video record Victim-1 and Victim-1’s household members in Brooklyn, New York, as part of the plot to kidnap Victim-1 for rendition to Iran . . . these Iranian government agents obtained the surveillance by misrepresenting their identities and the surveillance’s purpose to the investigators, and laundering money into the United States from Iran to pay for Victim-1’s surveillance, photos, and video recordings.”

DOJ said the Farahani-led intelligence network “researched methods of transporting Victim-1 out of the United States for rendition to Iran,” with Sadeghi looking into “a service offering military-style speedboats for self-operated maritime evacuation out of New York City and maritime travel from New York to Venezuela, a country whose de facto government has friendly relations with Iran.”

The same Iranian network “has also targeted victims in other countries, including victims in Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United Arab Emirates,” according to the agency.

According to the indictment, Iranian government officials attempted to persuade Alinejad’s relatives in Iran to invite her to travel to a third country so that she could be arrested and deported to Iran to be imprisoned in 2018, even offering to pay her relatives to do so, but Alinejad’s family declined.

According to the Department of Justice, anyone sending videos to Alinejad in violation of Iran’s criminal laws requiring women to wear head coverings in public would be considered to be cooperating with a hostile foreign government.  Alireza Alinejad, Alinejad’s brother, was apprehended by Iranian authorities in 2019 and sentenced to eight years in prison in 2020.

In December 2019, Alinejad filed a lawsuit against the Iranian government in federal court in the United States, alleging that the Iranian regime was targeting her and her family.

On Tuesday, Alan Kohler Jr., the assistant director of the FBI’s counterintelligence division said, “The government of Iran directed a number of state actors to plot to kidnap an American citizen and to conduct surveillance on U.S. soil — all with the intention of luring our citizen back to Iran as retaliation for their freedom of expression.”

Below is a reminder that Iran held American diplomatic staff hostage at the American Embassy in Tehran from Nov 4, 1979 to Jan 20, 1981.

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