WASHINGTON — The US Justice Department has charged three men as part of an Iran-backed plot to kill an Iranian American author and activist who has spoken out against human rights abuses, officials said Friday.
The men, Rafat Amirov, 43, of Iran, Polad Omarov, 38, of the Czech Republic and Slovenia and Khalid Mehdiyev, 24, of Yonkers, New York, were charged with money laundering and murder-for-hire in an indictment unsealed in federal court in New York. The three men were in custody and one was awaiting extradition to the US.
Though authorities didn’t identify the alleged target by name, Masih Alinejad, an Iranian opposition activist and writer in exile in New York City, confirmed to The Associated Press that she was the target of the plot.
“I’m not scared,” Alinejad told The Associated Press after US authorities announced the charges. “I want to tell you that the Iranian regime thinks by trying to kill me, they will silence me, or silence other women. But they only strengthen me, make me more powerful to fight for democracy and give voice to brave women who are facing guns and bullets in the streets to get rid of the Islamic Republic.”
She said FBI officials had read her the messages that the plotters exchanged between themselves, including a final one: “It’s going to be done today.”
Iran’s mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the charges. Iranian state media did not immediately acknowledge the alleged plot late Friday.
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. The Islamic Revolutionary Guards have been conducting these terrorist operations for four decades.
Islamic Republic is ISIS with oil. #WomanLifeFreedom pic.twitter.com/T9Hbp0iwG3
— Masih Alinejad ????️ (@AlinejadMasih) January 27, 2023
While the man who allegedly orchestrated the plot lives in Iran, the indictment does not directly blame the country’s theocracy for being behind the alleged murder-for-hire plot.
Mehdiyev was arrested last year after he was found driving around Masih’s Brooklyn neighborhood with a loaded rifle and dozens of rounds of ammunition. Alinejad told AP at the time that authorities told her the man was looking for her, and that a home security video had caught him skulking outside her front door.
Mehdiyev had been tasked by two leaders of the criminal gang, Amirov and Omarov, according to Garland. Amirov was arrested in the United States on Thursday and Omarov was detained early this month in the Czech Republic and is now in US custody.
“The government of Iran has previously targeted dissidents around the world, including the victim, who oppose the regime’s violations of human rights,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said in announcing the charges.
“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,” 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.”
In 2021, an Iranian intelligence official and three others were charged with plotting to kidnap the victim, he said.
All three defendants are natives of Azerbaijan, which shares a border and cultural ties with Iran.
“This case also highlights the evolving threat and the increasingly brazen conduct emanating from Iran,” said Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco. She also pointed to charges filed against members of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in an alleged plot to kill a former US national security adviser, as well as as charges against Iranian hackers accused of targeting utility companies.
Dual US-Iranian citizen Alinejad is known for her criticism of Iran’s clerical regime, including its requirement that women veil themselves.
She founded the My Stealthy Freedom movement, which encourages women to remove their hijabs.
AFP contributed to this report