Assassination Plot on Iranian-American Activist Revealed by Justice Dept.

Officials announced on January 27 that the US Department of Justice charged three men after allegedly plotting to kill Iranian-American author and human rights activist Masih Alinejad, who has criticized the human rights abuses committed by Iran.

The department charged the men, 43-year-old Rafat Amirov of Iran, 38-year-old Polad Omarov of Czechia and Slovenia, and 24-year-old Khalid Mehdiyev of Yonkers, New York, with money laundering and murder-for-hire in an unsealed indictment in a New York federal court. The three men were in custody, and one was waiting for extradition to the US.

Currently in exile in New York City, the Iranian-American author, journalist, and opposition activist confirmed to the Associated Press that she was the target. However, Masih Alinejad boldly told the AP that she was not scared after the US announced the charges.

"I want to tell you that the Iranian regime thinks by trying to kill me, they will silence me or silence other women,” Alinejad said. “But they only strengthen me, make me more powerful to fight for democracy and give voice to brave women who are facing guns and bullets in the streets to get rid of the Islamic Republic."

She also stated that officials from the FBI read her the messages the men exchanged with each other, along with a final one saying: "It's going to be done today."

The Iranian mission to the United Nations did not immediately comment regarding the charges, nor did the Iranian state media.

Although the man who orchestrated the plot is living in Iran, the indictment does not necessarily tie the Islamic Republic to sponsoring the alleged murder-for-hire.

Nevertheless, the White House’s national security advisor Jake Sullivan said that the incident "follows a disturbing pattern of Iranian government-sponsored efforts to kill, torture, and intimidate into silence activists for speaking out for the fundamental rights and freedoms of Iranians around the world."

In the case of Khalid Mehdiyev, this was not the first time he was apprehended for plotting to kill Alinejad. Last August 2022, he was arrested after stalking Alinejad in her Brooklyn neighborhood. Authorities had found an AK-47-style rifle and dozens of bullets in his car. Footage captured from a Ring camera surveillance saw Mehdiyev showing up outside Alinejad’s home and going back and forth before trying to open the door.

While announcing the charges, Attorney General Merrick Garland said that “the government of Iran has previously targeted dissidents around the world, including the victim, who oppose the regime's violations of human rights.

He also said that specific “individuals in Iran” ordered the defendants to carry out the plan to murder Alinejad.

"The victim publicized the Iranian government's human rights abuses, discriminatory treatment of women, suppression of democratic participation and expression, and use of arbitrary imprisonment, torture, and execution," Garland said, referring to Alinejad’s activism against Iran’s systemic human rights abuses.

In 2019, "this activity posed such a threat to the government of Iran that the chief judge of Iran's Revolutionary courts warned that anyone who sent videos to the victim criticizing the regime would be sentenced to prison." he added. 

Alinejad had been a constant target for attacks plotted against dissidents and critics of Iran’s government. Last July 2021, she was a target of a kidnapping plot allegedly connected to the Islamic Republic.

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