UNITED STATES: Four Iranian nationals, who are members of an alleged Iranian spy network, have been charged with plotting to kidnap a New York based journalist, the US Department of Justice says.
The target is not named in the indictment, but Masih Alinejad, an Iranian-born author who lives in Brooklyn, confirmed it was her.
The plot to abduct the New York based journalist Alinejad was part of a broader kidnapping campaign developed by the National Iranian intelligence ministry, with intended targets in Canada, the U.K. and the UAE. According to the Manhattan indictment, all of the targets had been outspoken critics of Iranians.
Prosecutors said the spy network backed by the Iranian National government had sought to lure the New York-based journalist to a third country where the abduction was planned. The plotters even offered money to the writer’s relatives in Iran to lure her to a third country in the Middle East, from where she would have been seized by Iranian agents, a technique used by Tehran in two recent incidents.
However after failed attempts, a “speedboat scheme” was considered by the plotters to kidnap the New York based journalist Alinejad, the indictment contends. They hired private investigators to spy on the target’s Brooklyn home and family and set up a high-definition live video feed of the property. According to the indictment, the kidnap conspirators were exploring ways to spirit the journalist from her home in Brooklyn and take her by speedboat out to sea, and then to Venezuela, an Iranian ally.
The kidnappers were aided by a fifth defendant, California resident Niloufar Bahadorifar, who was arrested on 1 July, said the US authorities. Although she is not accused of participating directly in the plot, Bahadorifar is charged with providing financial aid to the conspirators and violating sanctions against Iranian ministry.
She has pleaded not guilty and been released on bail.
‘A far-fetched movie plot’
“About eight months or so ago, the FBI warned me that there was a plot against me,” Alinejad told the Guardian in an email on Tuesday evening. “I said that’s not exactly news, I get death threats daily. The next thing is that the FBI tell me that I’m being targeted, that I am under photo and video surveillance in an operation by the intelligence ministry.
“The plot is pretty horrific but the FBI had my back.”
William Sweeney, the head of New York’s FBI office, said it sounded a bit like “some far-fetched movie plot”.