Three members of an Eastern European criminal group with ties to Iran have been indicted for plotting to murder a U.S. journalist and human rights activist who was critical of the Iranian regime, the Justice Department announced Friday.
"The victim in this case was targeted for exercising the rights to which every American citizen is entitled," Attorney General Merrick Garland said during a press conference Friday. "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."
"The conduct charged in today's case shows just how far Iranian actors are willing to go to silence critics of the Iranian regime," FBI Director Christopher Wray said.
The men - Rafat Amirov, Polad Omarov and Khalid Mehdiyev - were charged with murder-for-hire and money laundering for their role in a Tehran-backed plot to kill Masih Alinejad, an Iranian-American journalist, on U.S. soil. One of the defendants has been detained since his arrest last July, another is in custody of foreign partners pending extradition, and the third is in U.S. custody and will be presented today in court, Garland said.
Alinejad responded to the news in a video posted on Twitter shortly after the press conference, expressing gratitude for the law enforcement teams who thwarted the plot to kill her, and calling on the U.S. government to respond to the regime's violent crackdowns on protesters.
"Let me make it clear: I am not scared for my life. Because I knew that killing, assassinating hanging, torturing, raping, is in the DNA of the Isalmic Republic," Alinejad said. "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 added she is "thankful" for the work of the FBI and U.S. law enforcement, but called on the U.S. government to continue to take "strong action" against Iran. "This is the time that we have to pay attention to innocent people in Iran who don't have any protection," she said.
"The law enforcement action today is the latest U.S. disruption of plotting activities against this victim and other Americans," National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said in statement. "It 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. Today's announcement by the Attorney General should serve as a warning about the long reach of the U.S. Government in defense of Americans everywhere".
Earlier this week, the U.S. and its allies hit Iran with new sanctions targeting Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, five of its board members, four senior IRGC commanders and Iran's deputy minister of intelligence and security.