us-sanctions 16 July 2021

US indicts five on kidnapping and sanctions-evasion charges

The use of a ‘military style speedboat’ was allegedly researched as a means of kidnapping a human rights campaigner and journalist from New York, for onward transfer to Iran.  Such is described in an indictment, unsealed 12 July, which charges four Iranian agents ‘with conspiracies related to kidnapping, sanctions violations, bank and wire fraud, and money laundering’, specifically, a plot 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.’

While the indictment does not name the journalist, Masih Alinejad, a writer and campaigner for women’s rights with a large following on social media, has claimed that she is the intended victim of the plot.

According to the US Department of Justice (‘DoJ’), the indictment explains that the charges arise out of a scheme by the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran ‘to target dissidents who oppose the regime’s violations of human rights, suppression of democratic participation and freedom of expression, and corruption.’

It says that in recent years the regime has targeted ‘perceived opponents residing outside of Iran for kidnapping and capture’ and that in the last two years, its intelligence services have ‘lured Iranian expatriates lawfully residing in other countries to travel to locations where they could be captured, imprisoned in Iran, and executed.’ 

According to the indictment, ‘Alireza Shavaroghi Farahani, aka Vezerat Salimi and Haj Ali, 50; Mahmoud Khazein, 42; Kiya Sadeghi, 35; and Omid Noori, 45’, and ‘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.’

Had they been successful, the fate of the victim, a US citizen of Iranian origin, would have been ‘uncertain at best,’ said, US Attorney Audrey Strauss for the Southern District of New York.

Assistant Director Alan E. Kohler Jr. of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division said, ‘We will use all the tools at our disposal to aggressively investigate foreign activities by operatives who conspire to kidnap a U.S. citizen just because the government of Iran didn’t approve of the victim’s criticism of the regime.’