A disturbing fact was revealed on Tuesday, July 13, by the FBI. Four Iranian intelligence officers attempted to kidnap Masih Alinejad, an Iranian journalist who is also a human rights activist and a strong critic of Iran’s ruling theocracy. Their goal was to take her to Tehran and execute her.
“A New York federal court unsealed an indictment today charging four Iranian nationals with conspiracies related to kidnapping, sanctions violations, bank and wire fraud, and money laundering. A co-conspirator and California resident, also of Iran, faces additional structuring charges,” an FBI report revealed.
“According to court documents, Alireza Shavaroghi Farahani, aka Vezerat Salimi and Haj Ali, 50; Mahmoud Khazein, 42; Kiya Sadeghi, 35; and Omid Noori, 45, all of Iran, 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. Niloufar Bahadorifar, aka Nellie Bahadorifar, 46, originally of Iran and currently residing in California, is alleged to have provided financial services that supported the plot.”
The men hired private intelligence services to surveil the journalist and the people living with her in Brooklyn. The investigation says that the surveillance and plot have been going on since at least June 2020 and that the idea was to kidnap Alinejad inside the United States to silence her.
According to the FBI, the surveillance obtained a large number of images of “Victim-1,” i.e., the journalist, and the entire residence, and the people living there.
“The network repeatedly insisted on high-quality photographs and video recordings of Victim-1 and Victim-1’s household members; a large volume of content; pictures of visitors and objects around the house; and depictions of Victim-1’s body language. The network procured the surveillance by misrepresenting their identities and the purpose of the surveillance to the investigators, and laundered money into the United States from Iran to pay for the surveillance.”Part of the FBI report.
The federal agency also said that the kidnappers were evaluating ways to get Masih Alinejad out of the U.S. and into Tehran. Venezuela, according to the investigation, was the most feasible option because of its relative proximity to the United States by sea and its good relations with Iran.
“As part of the kidnapping plot, the intelligence network led by Farahani also investigated methods to transport Victim-1 out of the United States for delivery to Iran,” the report says.
“As part of the kidnapping plot, the Farahani-led intelligence network also researched methods of transporting Victim-1 out of the United States for rendition to Iran. Sadeghi, for example, researched 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. Khazein researched travel routes from Victim-1’s residence to a waterfront neighborhood in Brooklyn; the location of Victim-1’s residence relative to Venezuela; and the location of Victim-1’s residence relative to Tehran.”
The FBI also revealed that, prior to this plot initiated last year, “in approximately 2018, Iranian government officials attempted to induce relatives of Victim-1, who reside in Iran, to invite the victim to travel to a third country for the apparent purpose of having Victim-1 arrested or detained and transported to Iran for imprisonment..” This indicates that the Iranian theocracy’s efforts to abduct or forcibly take Masih Alinejad to Tehran are not new.
The reactions to the case of the Iranian journalist
While the FBI guarded Alinejad’s identity, the journalist posted several videos on Twitter revealing that she was the victim of the plot and thanked the authorities for defusing the criminal network.
“I am grateful to FBI for foiling the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Intelligence Ministry’s plot to kidnap me. This plot was orchestrated under Rouhani. This is the regime that kidnapped & executed Ruhollah Zam. They’ve also kidnapped and jailed Jamshid Sharmahd and many others,” Alinejad wrote while uploading a video of just under a minute.
The Iranian journalist gave several interviews to American and international media and also made a couple of comments to the NYT, which presented Alinejad as an unequivocal critic of the Iranian government and the controversial nuclear deal.
According to the NYT, “Alinejad said that learning details of the plot was shocking to her but that she had told her husband and son not to panic.”
“That shows that they’re not scared of America — they’re scared of me,” she said, adding, “Otherwise, they would not send anyone here to kidnap me.”
In an essay for the same newspaper in 2018, the journalist described why she left Iran in 2009: “As a journalist in Iran, I often got into trouble exposing the regime’s mismanagement and corruption until, eventually, my press pass was revoked,” she wrote. “I was often threatened with arrest or worse for writing articles critical of former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Ultimately, I was forced to flee my homeland in 2009.”