3 charged in plot to assassinate activist Masih Alinejad, who is critical of Iran regime

WASHINGTON – Three members of an Eastern European criminal gang have been charged in a murder for hire plot with links to Iran targeting an Iranian-American human rights activist who has been a vocal opponent of the Iranian regime.

Since July, FBI Director Christopher Wray said the criminal group had been planning the assassination of New York-based journalist and activist Masih Alinejad, who just two years ago had been the target of a foiled kidnapping attempt linked to Iranian intelligence operatives.

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Federal authorities did not identify Alinejad in court documents unsealed Friday, but referenced the 2021 case in which authorities disrupted the separate kidnapping plot.

Shortly after the charges were unsealed in Manhattan, Alinejad, who has repeatedly called out Iran’s human rights abuses and suppression of political expression, acknowledged that federal authorities had briefed her on the case.

"I just learned from 12 FBI agents that the 3 men hired by the Iranian regime to kill me on US soil have been indicted," Alinejad tweeted. "The Islamic Revolutionary Guards have been conducting these terrorist operations for four decades. Islamic Republic is ISIS with oil."

Iranian-American journalist and women's rights activist Masih Alinejad attends an interview with a TV news channel during the World Economic Forum annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, on Jan. 19.
Iranian-American journalist and women's rights activist Masih Alinejad attends an interview with a TV news channel during the World Economic Forum annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, on Jan. 19.

Rafat Amirov, 43, of Iran; Polad Omarov, 38, of the Czech Republic and Slovenia; and Khalid Mehdiyev, 24, of Yonkers, New York, were indicted on both money laundering and murder-for-hire charges. Amirov and Mehdiyev are in U.S. custody, while the federal authorities were seeking Omarov's extradition from the Czech Republic.

Neither Wray nor Attorney General Merrick Garland would comment on how federal authorities took custody of Amirov, the Iranian national.

Authorities said only that Amirov, described as the leader of the criminal group, had arrived in Manhattan Thursday to face the federal charges.

According to court documents, Amirov sent targeting information in July identifying Alinejad and her residence to Omarov who provided the information to the group's New York-based associate, Mehdiyev. The contacts allegedly launched surveillance of Alinejad and "reconnaissance" of her home and neighborhood.

"Mehdiyev sent photographs and videos of the victim’s residence to Omarov for further sharing with Amirov and the plot’s orchestrators in Iran," according to court documents.

Amirov and Omarov arranged to pay Mehdiyev $30,000 to carry out the attack, while Mehdiyev obtained an AK-47-style assault rifle.

Mehdiyev's role in the attack was discovered when he was arrested in July near Alinejad's Brooklyn home with the rifle bearing an obliterated serial number.

"Mehdiyev, at the direction of Amirov and Omarov, was preparing imminently to execute the attack on the victim," court documents stated.

"On the day he was arrested, Mehdiyev sent Omarov a video recording from inside his car, with a caption stating, 'we are ready,'" Attorney General Merrick Garland said, announcing the enforcement action. "In the video, Mehdiyev pulled open the flap of a suitcase displaying the assault rifle. Omarov then forwarded the video to Amirov, who replied that Mehdiyev should 'keep the car clean,'" the attorney general said.

"The victim in this case was targeted for exercising the rights to which every American citizen is entitled," Garland said. "This activity posed such a threat to the government of Iran that the chief judge of Iran's Revolutionary Courts warned that anyone who sent videos to the victim criticizing the regime would be sentenced to prison – especially videos contrary to criminal laws mandating that women and girls wear head coverings in public."


This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 3 charged in Iran assassination plot targeting activist Masih Alinejad