Thu, 30 Mar 2023

Three in Custody in Plot to Murder Iranian-American Journalist

Voice of America
28 Jan 2023, 05:05 GMT+10

washington - Three members of an Eastern European criminal gang with ties to Iran have been indicted in connection with plotting to murder Iranian-American human rights activist and VOA Persian host Masih Alinejad, the Justice Department announced on Friday.

Rafat Amirov, 43, of Iran, Polad Omarov, 38, of the Czech Republic, and Khalid Mehdiyev, 24, of Yonkers, New York, are all in custody and face charges of murder for hire and money laundering, Attorney General Merrick Garland said at a press conference.

"In the United States of America, our system of laws protects our citizens in the peaceful exercise of their constitutional and civil rights," Garland said. "The Department of Justice will not tolerate attempts by an authoritarian regime to undermine those protections and the rule of law upon which our democracy is based."

Amirov, the alleged ringleader of the plot, was 'lawfully arrested' outside the United States and arrived in New York on Thursday, Garland said. Amirov was to be arraigned before a federal magistrate judge later Friday.

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Mehdiyev, a New York-based member of the group, was arrested on July 29 and will make his first court appearance next week.

Omarov was detained in the Czech Republic on January 4, and U.S. officials said they will seek his extradition on charges in the indictment.

Mehdiev was arrested after police found him with an assault rifle and about 66 rounds of ammunition near Alinejad's home in Brooklyn.

Alinejad, the host of "Tablet," a weekly TV program for VOA Persian covering news developments in Iran and featuring videos shared by people living there, has been the target of several Iranian-sponsored assassination attempts.

In 2021, federal prosecutors charged an Iranian intelligence officer and three Iranian intelligence assets with plotting to kidnap the journalist for rendition to Iran and possible execution.

"The government of Iran has continued to target the victim since then," Garland said.

Following news of the indictments, Alinejad said in a video published on Twitter that she has no plans to stop what she is doing, and called on authorities to pay more attention to the situation facing people in Iran.

"I'm not scared for my life," she said. "I knew that killing, assassinating, hanging, torturing, raping is in the DNA of the Islamic Republic. That's why I came to the United States of America, to practice my right, my freedom of expression to be voice to the brave people of Iran who say 'no' to the Islamic Republic."

The Eastern European gang's alleged involvement in the plot to kill Alinejad goes back to at least July 2022.

According to a superseding indictment unsealed on Friday, Amirov, a leader of the Eastern European gang, was initially tasked with undertaking the plot.

Amirov then directed Omarov, another leader of the group based in Eastern Europe, who in turn directed Mehdiev, described as a member of the gang, to murder Alinejad.

According to court documents, the unnamed gang engages in murders, kidnappings, assaults and extortions. Its members typically identify themselves with tattoos and other displays of eight-pointed stars.

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