The Treasury Department announced sanctions against Iranian intelligence network operatives who plotted to kidnap an Iranian-born U.S. author-journalist critical of the Tehran regime in New York City for “rendition” to Iran.
The plot’s target was Masih Alinejad, a journalist and prominent outspoken women’s rights activist. A July indictment charged “four Iranian nationals with conspiracies related to kidnapping, sanctions violations, bank and wire fraud, and money laundering.”
The Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control announced it was “designating four Iranian intelligence operatives who targeted a U.S. citizen in the United States and Iranian dissidents in other countries as part of a wide-ranging campaign to silence critics of the Iranian government.”
Treasury said that “senior intelligence official Alireza Shahvaroghi Farahani led a network that plotted the kidnapping of a U.S. journalist and human rights activist” and that “consistent with the well-documented role of the Ministry of Intelligence and Security in domestic repression, this operation demonstrates the pernicious role of Iran’s intelligence apparatus in targeting Iranians abroad, to include brazen attempts to return dissidents to Iran.”
“The Iranian government’s kidnapping plot is another example of its continued attempt to silence critical voices, wherever they may be,” Andrea Gacki, the Director of the Office of Foreign Assets Control, said Friday. “Targeting dissidents abroad demonstrates that the government’s repression extends far beyond Iran’s borders.”
Niloufar Bahadorifar, a co-conspirator and California resident from Iran, also “provided financial services that supported the plot,” the Justice Department said in July, adding Farahani is an Iranian intelligence official and Mahmoud Khazein, Kiya Sadeghi, and Omid Noori were Iranian intelligence assets working under him.
Alinejad, identifiable as “Victim-1” in DOJ 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 Treasury Department said Friday that Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security “has played a key role in the Iranian government’s brutal human rights abuses against Iranians” and that “Iranian repression … has also stretched beyond Iran’s borders, with a string of similar plots in Europe and elsewhere.”
The Treasury Department said Farahani “leads a network of intelligence operatives, including Mahmoud Khazein, Kiya Sadeghi, and Omid Noori,” who are “tasked with targeting Iranian dissidents in the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, and the United Arab Emirates.” The quartet “planned the abduction of a New York City-based Iranian-American activist by utilizing the services of a private investigator to conduct surveillance on the victim and laundered money from Iran to the United States to pay for this surveillance.” Sadeghi “researched options to abduct the victim via military-style speedboats out of New York City for transport to Venezuela” while Noori “facilitated payment to the investigator” and Khazein “researched travel routes from the victim’s residence to potential exfiltration points.”
All four Iranians were designated as acting on behalf of the Ministry of Intelligence and Security, with their names added to the Specially Designated Nationals List. The Treasury Department said any property or interests that these Iranians had in the U.S. would be blocked and that people in the U.S. would be blocked from dealing with them, and people and financial institutions outside the U.S. could also be hit with sanctions if they do business with the four Iranians.
“Iran’s attempt to kidnap a U.S. citizen on U.S. soil because she used her freedom of speech to criticize the Iranian government is unacceptable and an egregious violation of fundamental international norms,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Friday. “Beyond this specific plot, the United States remains aware of ongoing Iranian interest in targeting other American citizens, including current and former U.S. officials.”