According to an indictment filed in Manhattan federal court, the kidnapping ploy was part of a broader effort to lure three people from Canada and a person from the UK to Iran.
The New York journalist isn’t identified in the indictment, but is described as a Brooklyn resident, journalist, and human rights activist who drew attention to Iran’s human rights abuses.
The four defendants charged in the kidnapping plot “monitored and planned to kidnap a U.S. citizen of Iranian origin who has been critical of the regime’s autocracy, and to forcibly take their intended victim to Iran, where the victim’s fate would have been uncertain at best,” U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said.
“Among this country’s most cherished freedoms is the right to speak one’s mind without fear of government reprisal. A U.S. citizen living in the United States must be able to advocate for human rights without being targeted by foreign intelligence operatives.”
Authorities identified the Iranian intelligence officer as Alireza Shavaroghi Farahani. If convicted, the three other defendants and he could all face life in prison.
“Every person in the United States must be free from harassment, threats, and physical harm by foreign powers,” Acting U.S. Assistant Attorney General Mark Lesko said. “Through this indictment, we bring to light one such pernicious plot to harm an American citizen who was exercising their First Amendment rights.”
William Sweeney, the head of New York’s FBI office, noted that the indictment sounded a bit like “some far-fetched movie plot.”
“We allege a group, backed by the Iranian government, conspired to kidnap a U.S.-based journalist here on our soil and forcibly return her to Iran. Not on our watch,” Lesko said.
Farahani hired private investigators to surveil the Brooklyn journalist and his household members. The surveillance included a live high-definition video feed of the journalist’s home.
The indictment alleged that the government of Iran tried to lure the journalist to a third country in 2018 so a capture would be possible, even offering money to the journalist’s relatives to try to make it possible. The relatives refused the offer, according to the indictment.
Authorities said Iranian intelligence services have previously lured other Iranian dissidents from France and the United States to capture and imprison critics of the Iranian regime and have publicly claimed responsibility for the capture operations.
They noted, as did the indictment, that an electronic device used by Farahani contains a photograph of the New York journalist alongside pictures of two other individuals. Those individuals were captured by Iranian intelligence authorities, according to the indictment. One was later executed and the other was imprisoned.
The others charged in the kidnapping plot were identified as Mahmoud Khazein, 42; Kiya Sadeghi, 35; and Omid Noori, 45, all from Iran.
According to the indictment, Sadeghi researched a service offering military-style speedboats that could perform a maritime evacuation out of New York that would ultimately reach Venezuela, which is run by a de facto government that has friendly relations with Iran.
Khazein researched travel routes from the journalist’s residence to a waterfront neighborhood in Brooklyn and the location of the journalist’s residence relative to Venezuela and Tehran, according to the indictment.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.