Four Iranian intelligence officials were indicted on Tuesday on charges of conspiring to kidnap a Brooklyn-based journalist, according to a release from the Department of Justice.
The indictment, unsealed by a New York federal court, alleges the four defendants planned to kidnap the journalist of Iranian origin “for mobilizing public opinion in Iran and around the world to bring about changes to the regime’s laws and practices,” the Justice Department release says.
The suspects are an Iranian intelligence officer and three alleged members of an Iranian intelligence network who allegedly conspired to kidnap the journalist with the backing of the Iranian government.
But Masih Alinejad, an activist and writer living in Brooklyn, confirmed that U.S. authorities had told her she was among the targeted victims and said she was the U.S. resident in the indictment.
Alinejad has contributed to the U.S. government-funded Voice of America Persian-language service and reports on human rights issues in Iran.
“I am grateful to the FBI for foiling the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Intelligence Ministry’s plot to kidnap me. This plot was orchestrated under [Iranian President Hassan] Rohani,” Alinejad wrote on Twitter.
The plotters hired private detectives under false pretences to spy on the victim, taking images and spying on her every move. The four-member team had a track record in kidnapping operations. Iran in 2019 kidnapped another independent journalist, Rouhollah Zam by luring him from Paris to Iraq, where he was seized and taken to Iran. He was sentenced to death and executed In December 2020.
The revelation of such a serious plot by the Iranian government at a sensitive moment of nuclear talks between the United States and Iran poses a serious challenge for President Biden’s administration that overturned Donald Trump’s policy of ‘maximum pressure’ on Iran and decided to conduct talks to revive the Obama-era nuclear agreement called the JCPOA.