Washington, D.C., July 14, 2021 — The Committee to Protect Journalists today strongly condemned the alleged plot by Iranian intelligence operatives to kidnap Iranian-American journalist Masih Alinejad in the United States.
Yesterday, U.S. prosecutors announced charges against five Iranian nationals for allegedly surveilling and planning to kidnap Alinejad, a New York-based journalist and human rights activist, according to a Justice Department statement.
The indictment did not specifically name Alinejad, but she posted on Twitter stating that she was the target of the plot. Alinejad is a contributor the U.S. government-funded broadcaster Voice of America’s Persian-language service, where she covers human rights in Iran. CPJ contacted Alinejad for comment but did not immediately receive any reply.
“U.S. officials’ indictment of five Iranian nationals suspected of plotting to kidnap journalist Masih Alinejad shows that Iranian intelligence agents will stop at nothing to silence independent members of the press, even those abroad,” said CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Sherif Mansour. “U.S. authorities must ensure that the perpetrators of this scheme are held to account, and Iran must cease its efforts to harass and harm journalists globally.”
In a Voice of America broadcast she posted to Twitter, Alinejad said she had previously received threats over her coverage. She said the FBI first contacted her about the kidnapping plot eight months ago.
The indictment states that authorities arrested one of the Iranian nationals, Niloufar Bahadorifar, on July 1 in California. The other four, identified as Alireza Shavaroghi Farahani, Mahmoud Khazein, Kiya Sadeghi, and Omid Noori, are based in Iran and have not been arrested, the indictment says.
Authorities charged the five with conspiracy to violate sanctions, launder money, and commit bank and wire fraud, the indictment says. Farahani, Khazein, Sadeghi, and Noori were also charged with conspiracy to kidnap Alinejad.
The statement alleges that the group was “backed by the Iranian government,” and identifies Farahani as an intelligence official, and Khazein, Sadeghi, and Noori as intelligence assets. It alleges that Bahadorifar illegally facilitated their surveillance but was not charged with being part of the kidnapping conspiracy.
U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said in the indictment that the group “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.”
Intelligence agents of Iran’s Islamic Republic Revolutionary Guards Corps have previously lured overseas journalists and activists to third countries where they kidnapped them and returned them to Iran; In 2019, authorities abducted journalist Roohollah Zam from Iraq and executed him in 2020.
Yesterday’s indictment alleged that the suspects had researched ways to bring Alinejad to Venezuela and then to Iran.
CPJ emailed Alireza Miryousefi, the head of the media office of Iran’s mission to the United Nations, for comment, but did not receive any reply.
State Department spokesperson Jennifer Viau responded to CPJ’s emailed request for comment by referring queries to the Justice Department.
Wyn Hornbuckle, a deputy director at Justice Department’s Office of Public Affairs, referred CPJ to the indictment published yesterday.