American Journalist Masih Alinejad speaks during a news conference holding Iran responsible for trying to silence dissidents at the U.S. Capitol on December 2, 2021. Three have been named in a second attempt on her life on Friday. File Photo by Bonnie Cash/UPI | License Photo
Jan. 27 (UPI) -- A New York federal court on Friday unsealed charges against three members of an Eastern European crime group in connection with a murder-for-hire scheme against Brooklyn-based journalist and Iranian dissident Masih Alinejad at her home last July.
Prosecutors said Rafat Amirov, 43, of Iran; Polad Omarov, 38, of the Czech Republic and Slovenia; and Khalid Mehdiyev, 24, of Yonkers, N.Y. were charged with money laundering and murder-for-hire for targeting Alinejad, a longtime critic of Iran's human rights abuses, who has been the target of past harassment attempts by the regime.
Attorney General Merrick Garland said at a press conference Friday that all three suspects were in custody.
"The victim, in this case, was targeted for exercising the rights to which every American citizen is entitled," Garland said.
"The Department of Justice will not tolerate attempts by an authoritarian regime to undermine those protections and the rule of law upon which our democracy is based."
Mehdiyev will be arraigned on the charges in the superseding indictment before Judge Colleen McMahon on Jan. 31. Amirov, who resides in Iran, arrived in New York on Thursday, and was set to be arraigned before Magistrate Judge Sarah L. Cave on Friday.
International authorities arrested Omarov in the Czech Republic on Jan. 4 and the Justice Department is in the process of requesting his extradition on the charges in the superseding indictment.
Local police arrested Mehdiyev on July 29, after he allegedly surveilled Alinejad's home and tried to lure her out through various methods including attempting to ask her for flowers from her garden.
The Justice Department said Alinejad left her home after witnessing Mehdiyev driving outside while carrying an assault rifle. Mehdiyev then drove away from her residence when he was stopped by police for a traffic violation.
New York Police found an AK-47 assault rifle, 66 rounds of ammunition, $1,100 in cash, and a ski mask in a vehicle he was stopped in before he was arrested. From there, the scope of the plot against the journalist started to unravel.
"This murder-for-hire plot directed against a prominent critic of the Iranian regime is yet another chilling example of the violent tactics used to silence those who speak out for the freedoms and safety of people around the world," said Assistant Attorney General for National Security Matthew Olsen.
Olsen added that in 2021, federal prosecutors charged four Iranian operatives with an international scheme to kidnap Alinejad for her reporting on the Iranian government. The four individuals -- Alireza Shavaroghi Farahani, 50, Mahmoud Khazein, 42, Kiya Sadeghi, 35, and Omid Noori, 45 -- all reside in Iran and are at large, prosecutors said then.
Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said the Justice Department has previously charged members of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary in a plot to murder former national security advisor John Bolton, as well as indicted Iranian hackers for targeting U.S. infrastructure and called out Iran for a cyberattack on government computer networks.
"Increasingly, we are seeing national security and criminal threats blend, as rogue nations and criminal organizations make common cause and share capabilities," Monaco said.
National security adviser Jake Sullivan praised the Justice Department for its work to apprehend the suspects.
"Today's announcement by the attorney general should serve as a warning about the long reach of the U.S. government in defense of Americans everywhere," said Sullivan. "It demonstrates our steadfast resolve to impose consequences, consistent with our laws, on those involved in plotting against our citizens and our interests.