Skip to content

A Hostile Power: The List of Iran-backed Plans to Kill and Kidnap Americans

The attempted killing of author Salman Rushdie is the latest in a list of crimes committed (or planned but thwarted) in the United States that have a connection with the government of Iran. In less than two years, federal authorities have uncovered and thwarted at least three Iran-backed plans to either kill or kidnap high-profile opponents of the Iranian regime who are living in the U.S.

Salman Rushdie has been in the crosshairs of the Iranian regime for decades after the former Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa (Islamic law ruling) calling for the death of Rushdie in 1989. The order came after the (sometimes violent) widespread backlash on the book The Satanic Verses which many Muslims considered blasphemous due to its portrayal of Prophet Muhammad.

The Iranian response

Iran has officially said it didn’t have anything to do with the attempted murder of Rushdie, but it justified the violent crime by saying that Rushdie himself and his “followers” were to blame for the attempt on his life. U.S. officials have accused Iran of encouraging violence. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said in a statement that Iranian institutions have “incited violence against Rushdie for generations, and state-affiliated media recently gloated about the attempt on his life.”


The attempted killing of Salman Rushdie has brought attention to the long list of Iran-backed plans to kill or kidnap journalists or American officials (EFE)

The Rushdie stabbing, which occurred in the middle of the day during a lecture in Western New York, came just a few days after it was revealed that Iran intelligence officials have tried to assassinate former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and former National Security Advisor John Bolton.

Whether Iran directly financed or coordinated the attempt on Rushdie’s life or only provided rhetorical fuel to the fire, the reality is that in less than a year the Tehran regime has been involved in four high-profile attempted plots or murders on American soil. All at the same time as American officials try to hammer out a revived Nuclear deal.

Iranian intelligence officers attempted kidnapping journalist Masih Alinejad

In July 2021, the FBI foiled the attempts of four Iranian intelligence officials who were trying to kidnap dissident journalist Masid Alinejad in NYC and arguably bring her to Iran where she could be punished by the Tehran regime for her writings. Alinejad is an American citizen, so her kidnapping would have been an incredibly brazen and provocative action against the U.S. by the Iranian government.

The FBI did not mince its words when they unraveled the plot, as the agency’s Assistant Director William F. Sweeney said “we allege a plot, backed by the Iranian government, conspired to kidnap a U.S. based journalist here on our soil and forcibly return her to Iran.” In September of that year, the U.S. Treasury Department imposed sanctions on Iranian officials over the kidnapping attempt.

Alinejad is not the only journalist or dissident on foreign soil who has been targeted by Tehran for kidnapping. In 2019, Paris-based dissident reporter Ruhollah Zam was lured to travel to Iraq, where he was kidnapped and deported to Iran, where he was trialed and executed in 2020. In 2020, the California-based dissident Jamshid Sharmahd disappeared while on travel in the United Arab Emirates and then appeared in Iran where the authorities charged him over the bombing of a mosque in 2008 and is facing the death penalty.

Iranian officials were accused by the DOJ of plotting the kidnapping of Iranian-American journalist Masih Alinejad (EFE)

The Iran-backed plans to kill Pompeo and Bolton

Kidnapping journalists and dissidents based in foreign lands appears not to be enough for the Tehran government, as last week it was revealed that the DOJ and the FBI had been investigating an Iranian-backed murder for hire scheme to assassinate former National Security Advisor John Bolton and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

The assassination attempt was made public after the DOJ released the documents of the criminal complaint against Iranian national Shahram Poursafi, who was accused of trying to pay $300,000 to individuals in the United States to kill Bolton and $1,000,000 to kill Mike Pompeo. Porusafi is a member of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Porusafi still remains at large and is being pursued by law enforcement.

Although the Porusafi plot was thwarted by American law enforcement, the threat against public officials remains a real possibility, as Iran has vowed revenge against the U.S. after the airstrike that killed Qasem Soleimani in 2020.

Current national Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said over the possibility of attacks against current U.S. officials that while he could not give many details publicly, he could say “there is an ongoing threat against American officials, both present and past.”

Even if the Tehran government did not directly fund or organized the attempted murder of Rushdie, the Iranian government has shown a track record of supporting and organizing murder and kidnapping plots against American citizens on American soil, which highlights that despite the Biden negotiations with Iran, Tehran remains to view the United States with extreme hostility.


Daniel is a Political Science and Economics student from the University of South Florida. He worked as a congressional intern to Rep. Gus Bilirakis (FL-12) from January to May 2020. He also is the head of international analysis at Politiks // Daniel es un estudiante de Cs Políticas y Economía en la Universidad del Sur de la Florida. Trabajo como pasante legislativo para el Representate Gus Bilirakis (FL-12) desde enero hasta mayo del 2020. Daniel también es el jefe de análisis internacional de Politiks.

Leave a Reply