The target appears to have been Masih Alinejad, a journalist and outspoken women’s rights activist. However, the Justice Department refrained from naming the individual when announcing on Tuesday, it unsealed an indictment “charging four Iranian nationals with conspiracies related to kidnapping, sanctions violations, bank and wire fraud, and money laundering.”
Alireza Shahvaroghi Farahani, Mahmoud Khazein, Kiya Sadeghi, and Omid Noori all “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,” the agency revealed, citing court documents.
Niloufar Bahadorifar, a co-conspirator and California resident from Iran, also “provided financial services that supported the plot," the Justice Department stated, adding Farahani is an Iranian intelligence official and Khazein, Sadeghi, and Noori were Iranian intelligence assets working under him.
"I am grateful to the FBI for foiling the Islamic Republic of Iran's Intelligence Ministry's plot to kidnap me," Alinejad tweeted Tuesday night.
Alinejad, identifiable as “Victim-1” in court documents, fled Iran in 2009 and settled in New York in 2014. She became increasingly targeted by the Iranian regime following the launch of her popular “My Stealthy Freedom” and “White Wednesdays” social media campaigns.
The first campaign launched in 2014 and encouraged Iranian women to post photos of themselves without their hijab, while the second similar civil disobedience effort began in 2017, with Iranian women removing their headscarves or wearing white shawls in protest every Wednesday. The VOA Persian TV host wrote her memoir, The Wind in My Hair: My Fight for Freedom in Modern Iran, in 2018, noting that the Iranian government told women to “keep their heads low, to be as unobtrusive as possible, and to be meek” but that “I’ve got too much hair, too much voice, and I’m too much of a woman for them.”
“Every person in the United States must be free from harassment, threats, and physical harm by foreign powers,” said Mark Lesko, the acting assistant attorney general for DOJ’s national security division, on Tuesday. “Through this indictment, we bring to light one such pernicious plot to harm an American citizen who was exercising their First Amendment rights, and we commit ourselves to bring the defendants to justice.”
“Since at least June 2020, the Government of Iran has plotted to kidnap Victim-1 from within the United States in furtherance of the regime’s efforts to silence Victim-1. On multiple occasions in 2020 and 2021, agents of the Government of Iran procured the services of private investigators to surveil, photograph, and video record Victim-1 and Victim-1’s household members in Brooklyn, New York, as part of the plot to kidnap Victim-1 for rendition to Iran,” the new indictment against the Iranian officials contended.
The same Iranian network “has also targeted victims in other countries,” the agency added.