US, UK sanction network accused of targeting Iran dissidents for assassination

Treasury Department says network directed by Iran’s intelligence ministry, slaps sanctions on 11 connected individuals, including a narcotics trafficker it says is the leader

The building of the US Department of the Treasury, in Washington, DC, on March 27, 2020. (Olivier DOULIERY / AFP / File)
The building of the US Department of the Treasury, in Washington, DC, on March 27, 2020. (Olivier DOULIERY / AFP / File)

WASHINGTON (Reuters) — The United States and Britain on Monday imposed sanctions on a network of people who targeted Iranian dissidents and opposition activists for assassination at Iran’s direction, the US Treasury Department said.

The US Treasury in a statement accused the network of being directed by Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security and put sanctions on 11 people connected to it, including Iranian narcotics trafficker Naji Ibrahim Sharifi-Zindashti, who it said is the leader.

The Treasury said Zindashti’s network had carried out assassinations and kidnappings across a number of jurisdictions, aiming to silence Tehran’s perceived critics.

“The Iranian regime’s continued efforts to target dissidents and activists demonstrate the regime’s deep insecurity and attempt to expand Iran’s domestic repression internationally,” said Treasury Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian Nelson.

The Treasury action freezes any US assets of those targeted and generally bars Americans from dealing with them.

In announcing the targets for the sanctions, the Treasury Department said that in 2021, the network recruited Canadian national and British Columbia-based Hells Angels Outlaw Motorcycle Group member Damion Patrick John Ryan to assassinate individuals in the United States who fled Iran.

Ryan also recruited Canadian national and Hells Angels affiliate Adam Richard Pearson to carry out the murders, the Treasury said. Both are presently jailed abroad on unrelated criminal matters.

Zindashti, Pearson, and Ryan were charged with conspiracy to use interstate commerce in the commission of a murder-for-hire plot, the Department of Justice said in a statement on Monday. It said the three conspired with each other in a plot to murder two residents of Maryland who had fled to the US after one of them defected from Iran.

Also targeted were people involved in the assassination of Iranian cybersecurity official turned critic Mas’ud Vardanjani and British-Iranian dissident Saeed Karimian, Washington said.

Britain imposed sanctions on Iranian officials it said were involved in threats to kill journalists on British soil, and others it said were part of international criminal gangs linked to Iran.

The sanctions targeted seven individuals and one organization, Britain’s Foreign Office said.

The sanctioned Iranian officials are members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Unit 840, which an ITV investigation in Britain said was involved in plots to assassinate two television presenters from news channel Iran International in Britain.

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