Iranian intelligence officials indicted in attempted kidnapping of U.S.-based journalist

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Four Iranian intelligence officials were indicted on Tuesday on charges of conspiring to kidnap a Brooklyn-based journalist, according to a release from the Department of Justice.

The indictment, unsealed by a New York federal court, alleges the four defendants planned to kidnap the journalist of Iranian origin “for mobilizing public opinion in Iran and around the world to bring about changes to the regime’s laws and practices,” the Justice Department release says.

The Iranian government allegedly directed the state actors to plot the kidnapping and conduct surveillance on U.S. soil, with the intention to take the kidnapped victim back to Iran, “where the victim’s fate would have been uncertain at best,” Audrey Strauss, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, said in the release.

A fifth co-conspirator, who currently lives in California, faces additional charges and is alleged to have provided financial services in the plot.

“Through this indictment, we bring to light one such pernicious plot to harm an American citizen who was exercising their First Amendment rights, and we commit ourselves to bring the defendants to justice,” Mark J. Lesko, acting assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s National Security Division, said in the release.

Alireza Shavaroghi Farahani, Mahmoud Khazein, Kiya Sadeghi and Omid Noori are each charged with conspiring to kidnap, conspiring to violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act and sanctions against the government of Iran, conspiring to commit bank and wire fraud, and conspiring to launder money.

Farahani is an intelligence official who lives in Iran, and whom the other three defendants work under. His intelligence network has been plotting to kidnap the U.S. journalist since at least June 2020 in an attempt to further the Iranian government’s efforts to silence the journalist’s criticisms of it, the release states.

Farahani and his network are accused of employing private investigators to surveil their intended victim and the victim’s household members, procuring days’ worth of surveillance of the journalist’s home and surrounding area. The network procured services from the private investigators by misrepresenting their identities and the purpose of the surveillance, and laundering money to the U.S. to pay for the services, according to the Justice Department.

Farahani’s network has also targeted victims in other countries, including Canada, Britain and the United Arab Emirates, according to the department release.

The State Department focused on Iranian citizens’ rights in commenting on the case.

“The Iranian government continues to deny Iranians their human rights, including through severe restrictions on the rights to peaceful assembly, freedom of association, freedom of religion or belief, and freedom of expression,” a department spokesperson said in a statement. “The Biden Administration will continue to call out and stand up to Iran’s human rights abuses, and will support others who do so both here and in Iran.”

The FBI is investigating the case, and a federal District Court judge will determine sentencing if the defendants are convicted.

Nahal Toosi contributed to this report.

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