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Feds charge three men in assassination plot of Brooklyn-based Iranian dissident journalist

Masih Alinejad is pictured in Brooklyn, New York City on July 13, 2021.  (Gardiner Anderson/New York Daily News/TNS)
By Molly Crane-Newman New York Daily News

Manhattan federal prosecutors on Friday announced a sweeping multi-count indictment against three Eastern European gangsters they say plotted to kill a Brooklyn-based journalist critical of the authoritarian Iranian regime.

Rafat Amirov, 43, Khalid Mehdiyev, 24, and Polad Omarov, 38, are accused of stalking and making multiple attempts to kill Iranian dissident Masih Alinejad at her home in July.

The feds say that included an unsuccessful attempt to lure Alinejad out of her house by asking for flowers in her garden. Alinejad, a journalist, author, and human rights activist who has been the subject of previous kidnapping attempts by the Iranian government, didn’t take the bait.

“This is the second time in the past two years that this Office and our partners at the FBI have disrupted plots originating from within Iran to kidnap or kill this victim for the ‘crime’ of exercising the right to free speech, to independent political thought, and to advocating for the rights of the oppressed and disenfranchised inside Iran,” Manhattan U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said.

Mehdiyev was arrested in August, after allegedly spending at least two days stalking Alinejad’s house, looking in her windows and trying to open her door. He was being watched by law enforcement when he ran a stop sign close to her Flatbush home and was pulled over by the NYPD. He had an AK-47 assault rifle, 66 rounds of ammunition, $1,100 in cash, and a ski mask, the feds charge.

Alinejad is not named in the indictment, but a source familiar with the case confirmed she was the victim as did she in a tweet Friday, saying she learned of the arrests after meeting 12 FBI agents at the bureau’s New York headquarters.

“Let me make it clear, I’m not scared for my life because I knew that killing, assassinating, hanging, torturing, raping, is in the DNA of the Islamic Republic, and that’s why I came to the United States of America to practice my right, my freedom of expression, to give voice to brave people of Iran, who say no to the Islamic Republic,” Alinejad posted.

Alinejad posted surveillance footage captured by her Ring doorbell last year showing the moment an armed suspect tried to get into her home. The journalist said she has lived in three safehouses and that the FBI encouraged her to broadcast videos on social media from different locations so agents could keep track of which posts caught Iranian intelligence officials’ attention.

In July 2021, prosecutors indicted an Iranian intelligence official who lives in Iran, Alireza Shavaroghi Farahani, 50, and four accomplices for elaborate plot to kidnap Alinejad, with the goal of locking her up in an Iranian prison. The feds say they spied on her home for months, researching the best route to the Brooklyn waterfront where a boat would wait to ferry her to Venezuela.

Amirov was expected to appear before Judge Colleen McMahon on murder-for-hire and money-laundering charges on Friday. Mehdiyev, who the feds arrested on related charges in July, will be presented in Manhattan Federal court on new charges on Jan. 31. The third man, Omarov, was arrested in the Czech Republic on Jan. 4. The feds are seeking his extradition to the U.S.

FBI Director Christopher Wray said the charges reflect “how far Iranian actors are willing to go to silence critics, even attempting to assassinate a U.S. citizen on American soil.”