US says Iran hired 3 members of Eastern European mafia to murder dissident
The three men plotted to kill outspoken human rights campaigner Masih Alinejad in exchange for cash after a failed previous attempt by Iran to kidnap her.
The United States charged three suspected members of an Eastern Europe-based mafia organization with planning to assassinate Iranian-American activist Masih Alinejad at the behest of Iran, according to federal indictments unsealed Friday.
The U.S. Justice Department said the three men — Rafat Amirov, Polad Omarov and Khalid Mehdiyev, all of whom have been arrested — plotted to kill the outspoken human rights campaigner in July in exchange for cash after the failure of a previous attempt by Iran to kidnap Alinejad.
“The victim publicized the Iranian government’s human rights abuses, discriminatory treatment of women, suppression of democratic participation and expression, and use of arbitrary imprisonment, torture, and execution,” U.S. Attorney General Merrick B. Garland said in a statement. “We will stop at nothing to identify, find, and bring to justice those who endanger the safety of the American people.”
The three men have been charged with offenses including conspiracy to commit murder-for-hire and money laundering, and could face decades in prison if convicted.
Iran has tried to kill and kidnap dozens of dissidents and others it perceives to be enemies since the so-called Islamic Revolution in 1979, Western officials say, but the attempt to assassinate Alinejad on American soil counts as its most brazen operation in recent years.
Alinejad, a journalist and social media phenomenon in Iran and beyond, has been one of the most vocal critics of Iran’s brutal regime, regularly calling it out for its mistreatment of women and others who dare to challenge the mullahs’ authority.
Alinejad said in a video statement posted on Twitter that the FBI had briefed her on the arrests in a meeting on Friday.
“Let me make it clear: I’m not scared for my life because I knew that killing, assassinating, hanging, torturing, raping is in the DNA of the Islamic Republic and that’s why I came to the USA,” she said, calling on the American government to take “strong action” against Iran, noting the hundreds of people the regime has killed and arrested amid the recent wave of protests there.
“You cannot negotiate with a terror regime,” she said.
American authorities discovered the latest alleged plot against Alinejad in July. Mehdiyev, a resident of Yonkers, New York, was arrested after a routine traffic stop near Alinejad’s Brooklyn residence. Police discovered an AK-47 assault rifle with the serial number filed off, more than 60 rounds of ammunition and a ski mask in his car.
Immediately before the arrest, Mehdiyev was caught on a video surveillance camera allegedly trying to break into Alinejad’s home.
Prosecutors now allege that Mehdiyev was part of a broader conspiracy directed by Iran that also included Amirov and Omarov, both of whom authorities describe as “leaders” of an Eastern European mafia group. Amirov, who lives in Iran, was arrested in New York on Thursday. Omarov was arrested in the Czech Republic on January 4 and the U.S. plans to request his extradition.
The failed assassination attempt followed an earlier plot to kidnap Alinejad that was foiled by the FBI.
That plan, exposed in July 2021, allegedly involved an attempt by Iranian operatives to kidnap Alinejad from her home in Brooklyn and then take her by speedboat to a tanker in New York Harbor before spiriting her off to Venezuela, an Iranian ally, and then on to the Islamic Republic.