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US arrests three in Iran-backed plot to assassinate dissident journalist Alinejad

Masih Alinejad routinely pillories Western leaders who comply with the obligation to wear a hijab during their visits to Iran
— Washington (AFP)

The US Justice Department announced the indictment Friday of three members of a European criminal gang who allegedly undertook a Tehran-backed plot to assassinate dissident Iranian-American journalist Masih Alinejad.

The Justice Department said one of the three, Rafat Amirov, a leader of the unnamed gang who lives in Iran, directed the plot last year to kill Alinejad at her home in New York.

Working with another senior gang member Polad Omarov, based in eastern Europe, they directed Khalid Mehdiyev, a US citizen living in Yonkers, New York, to carry out the murder, and sent him $30,000 to do so, the department said.

Mehdiyev was arrested near Alinejad's New York home in late July with a loaded AK-47 assault rifle, aiming to lure her out of her home.

A broader investigation was opened, which led to the arrest of Amirov, who was taken into custody in the United States on Thursday, and Omarov, who was detained early this month in the Czech Republic.

The three were charged with murder-for-hire, conspiracy and money laundering, charges which bring cumulatively up to 40 years in prison.

"The law enforcement action today is the latest US disruption of plotting activities against this victim and other Americans," said White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan 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."

In a tweet Alinejad said she was informed early Friday of the plot and arrests by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

"The Islamic Revolutionary Guards have been conducting these terrorist operations for four decades," she said.

"Let me be clear: I'm not scared for my life ... "I'm going to continue giving voice to brave Iranian leaders, women, men, inside Iran," she said.

- Earlier kidnap plot -

US Attorney General Merrick Garland announces the indictment of three men who plotted to kill dissident Iranian-American journalist Masih Alinejad

Alinejad is a 45-year-old activist and dual US-Iran citizen who has been a target of previous plots by Tehran.

In July 2021 US authorities charged four Iranian intelligence operatives and one US resident for plotting to kidnap her and take her back to Iran.

In the case revealed Friday, officials made no direct link to the Iranian government, saying the case is still under investigation.

They said that working from Iran, Amirov directed the operation, and sent via Omarov targeting information on Alinejad that Amirov had received "from other individuals in Iran."

"After receiving the directive from Amirov, Omarov sent Mehdiyev photographs of the victim and the victim's home as well as the victim's address," said US Attorney General Merrick Garland.

Mehdiyev, 24, went to Alinejad's home several times in July 2022 but was unable to attack her.

He was there on July 28, when he reported to Omarov that he was at the scene, waiting for her to emerge from the house.

But she had taken note of suspicious activity and left the area.

Mehdiyev was then stopped by police on a traffic violation and arrested on a firearms charge.

US officials did not explain how Amirov, 43 and a citizen of Iran, came into their custody, or how Omarov, a citizen of both the Czech Republic and Slovenia, was detained.

"We will not tolerate attempts by a foreign power to threaten, silence, or harm Americans," said garland.

"The victim in this case was targeted for exercising the rights to which every American citizen is entitled," he said.