Three arrested in plot linked to Iran to assassinate U.S. journalist, DOJ says

U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland announces that the U.S. Justice Department has filed an anti-trust lawsuit against Alphabet’s Google over allegations that the company abused its dominance of the digital advertising business, during an appearance in the Justice Department’s briefing room in Washington, January 24, 2023. 

Kevin Lamarque | Reuters

Three members of an Eastern European crime group were arrested in a thwarted murder-for-hire plot targeting a U.S. journalist and human rights activist of Iranian origin who is a prominent critic of Iran, Attorney General Merrick Garland announced Friday. 

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One of the men, 24-year-old New York resident Khalid Mehdiyev, was apprehended in late July with an AK-47-style assault rifle near the victim’s home in Brooklyn as he was about to “execute the attack on the victim,” according to an indictment unsealed Friday in Manhattan federal court.

Authorities said the plot was conducted at the behest of unidentified individuals in Iran.

The same victim had been the target of an earlier kidnapping plot, which led to the indictment in 2021 of four people who have ties to Iranian intelligence, authorities said.

Masih Alinejad, an exiled Iranian journalist, identified herself in 2021 as the target of the kidnapping plot. Alinejad did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

But in a tweet Friday, she wrote, “I just learned from 12 FBI agents that the 3 men hired by the Iranian regime to kill me on US soil have been indicted.”

“The Islamic Revolutionary Guards have been conducting these terrorist operations for four decades. Islamic Republic is ISIS with oil,” she wrote in the tweet, which included a video lasting more than two minutes.

“This is the face of a person who was a target of an assassination plot,” she said on the video. “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.”

Iranian-American journalist and women’s rights activist Masih Alinejad during a session at the Congress centre during the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos on January 19, 2023. 

Fabrice Coffrini | AFP | Getty Images

National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, in a statement, said, “The law enforcement action today is the latest U.S. disruption of plotting activities against this victim and other Americans.”

“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,” Sullivan said,

The latest plot began in 2022, when members of the Eastern European crime organization known as “Thieves-in-Law,” which has ties to Iran, were enlisted to assassinate the victim, according to an indictment, which does not identify the victim by name.

That group’s participation in the plot was directed by a man named Rafat Amirov, the group’s leader, who lives in Iran and “who was tasked with targeting the Victim by individuals in Iran,” according to the indictment, which was unsealed in U.S. District Court in Manhattan.

Amirov, 43, was taken into custody on Thursday in New York. He is due to be arraigned Friday in Manhattan federal court.

In addition to him and Mehdiyev, who lives in Yonkers, the other man charged was Polad Omarov, who was arrested on Jan. 4 in the Czech Republic, where he lives. Omarov also lives in Slovenia.

Polad Omarov

Source: D.O.J.

All three men are charged with murder-for-hire, conspiracy to commit murder-for-hire, and conspiracy to commit money laundering. They face a maximum possible prison sentence of 20 years if convicted of the money laundering count, and a 10-year maximum prison term for each of the murder-for-hire charges.

Mehdiyev also is charged with possessing a firearm with an obliterated serial number, which has a maximum prison sentence of five years.

The indictment says that Amirov directed Omarov, who is a member of the crime group, in the plot to kill the journalist.

Omarov, in turn, directed Mehdiyev “to carry out the plot against the victim,” the indictment says.

KHALID MEHDIYEV, the defendant, is a citizen of
Azerbaijan, a resident of Yonkers, New York, and a member of the
Organization .

Source: D.O.J.

Amirov and Omarov arranged for $30,000 in cash to be paid to Mehdiyev, who then obtained the rifle, at least 66 rounds of ammunition, and two ammo magazines, according to that charging document.

Mehdiyev bragged in electronic communications that he had procured a “war machine,” authorities said.

Mehdiyev, at the instruction of the other men, surveilled the target and members of her family and took photos and videos of her home and the surrounding neighborhood, the indictment says.

He also “devised a scheme to lure the Victim out of the Victim’s house,” according to the indictment.

When he was arrested near the target’s home, the assault rifle he had was found to have an obliterated serial number, the indictment says.

During an earlier visit to the target’s home, Mehdiyev wrote Omarov, “We blocked it from both sides. It will be a show once she steps out of the house,” according to the indictment.

When Omarov forwarded that boast, Amirov replied, “God willing,” the indictment says.

But Mehdiyev was unable to carry out the killing that day, authorities said.

Mehdiyev is due to be arraigned Tuesday on the new indictment. U.S. authorities will seek Omarov’s extradition from the Czech Republic.

Garland, the attorney general, in a statement, said, “The Victim in this case was targeted for exercising the rights to which every American citizen is entitled.”

“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,” Garland said.

“We will not tolerate attempts by a foreign power to threaten, silence, or harm Americans. We will stop at nothing to identify, find, and bring to justice those who endanger the safety of the American people.”

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