U.S., Britain sanction network accused of plotting to kill Iranian dissidents

The governments of U.S. President Joe Biden and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on Monday jointly sanctioned a network they accuse of plotting to kill Iranian dissidents in their respective countries. File Photo by Hugo Philpott/UPI
The governments of U.S. President Joe Biden and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on Monday jointly sanctioned a network they accuse of plotting to kill Iranian dissidents in their respective countries. File Photo by Hugo Philpott/UPI | License Photo

Jan. 29 (UPI) -- The United States and Britain on Monday imposed Iran-related punitive measures over Tehran's ongoing threat to assassinate dissidents abroad.

The ally countries accuse Iran's Ministry of Intelligence and Security of operating a network headed by Iranian narcotics trafficker Naji Ibrahim Sharifi-Zindashti that has conducted acts of what the U.S. State Department describes as "transnational repression," including numerous assassinations and kidnappings, in the United States, Britain and elsewhere.


The United States said it sanctioned 11 members of the criminal network, and brought charges against Zindashti, 49, and others for scheming to murder two Maryland dissidents, while Britain blacklisted seven people and and a group within the Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps over a plot to kill two television presenters with an Britain-based Iranian opposition news channel.

"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," Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian Nelson said Monday in a statement.


The Treasury on Monday listed a series of assassinations of Iranian dissidents that it holds Zindashti and his network responsible for, including the 2020 kidnapping of Swedish-Iranian Habib Chaab, who was smuggled from Turkey back to Iran where he was executed following a questionable trial.

The network is also being blamed for the assassinations of former Iranian cybersecurity official-turned regime critic Mas'ud Vardanjani in Turkey in 2019 and British-Iranian dissident Saeed Karimian in 2017.

Along with the sanctions, the Justice Department announced an indictment Monday charging Zindashti and two Canadians -- Damion Patrick John Ryan, 43, a member of the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club; and Adam Richard Pearson, 29 -- with conspiring between December 2020 and January 2021 to kill two unnamed Iranian dissidents living in Maryland.

The document accuses Zindashti of recruiting Ryan to head the operation via subscription-based encrypted messaging service Sky ECC, who then contacted Pearson to be involved.

Zindashti and Ryan agreed on a sum of $350,000 plus $20,000 for expenses to kill the two people.

Ryan and Pearson are jailed in the Canada on unrelated charges, while Zindashti is believed to be residing in Iran.

"To those in Iran who plot murders on U.S. soil and the criminal actors who work with them, let today's charges send a clear message: the Department of Justice will pursue you as long as it takes -- and wherever you are -- and deliver justice," Assistant Attorney General Matthew Olsen of the Justice Department's National Security Division said in a statement Monday.


Britain on Monday also accused Zindashti and his network of being behind 15 credible threats and plots to kill British or U.K.-based residents since the start of 2022.

Among the threats include a plot to assassinate two television presenters from news channel Iran International. Britain described the plot was Tehran's latest attempt to conduct murder on British soil.

"We cannot allow foreign regimes to collaborate with criminals to threaten us," Home Secretary James Cleverly said in a statement. "Sanctioning these criminal networks working for the Iranian regime will remind them that we will fight back."

The sanctions generally impose asset freezes on those named as well as travel bans.

Iran has been accused of being behind several high profile kidnapping plots in the United States in recent years. In 2021, the United States charged four Iranians with a sprawling international plot to kidnap New York City-based journalist and Tehran critic Masih Alinejad.

In 2020, two Iranian men were sentenced to about three years behind bars for spying on Iranian dissidents and Jewish groups in the United States.

"The United States will continue to use all available tools to hold the Iranian regime accountable for its attempts to extend its repression internationally as well as its ongoing human rights abuses against its own people and its actions to sow instability in the Middle East region and beyond," State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said Monday in a statement.


The punitive measures were imposed amid soaring tensions between the two allies and Iran as Tehran, through its proxies, has been deepening its involvement in Israel's war against the Iran-backed Hamas. The United States and Britain have blamed Iran for being behind Sunday's drone strike on U.S. service members in Jordan, which killed three and injured at least 34 others.

President Joe Biden has vowed to respond though maintains that he does not want to escalate the conflict.

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