U.S. prosecutors have charged three members of an eastern European criminal organization with ties to Iran's government with conspiring to assassinate a journalist and activist who is an American citizen, Attorney General Merrick Garland said on Friday.
Rafat Amirov, Polad Omarov and Khalid Mehdiyev were charged with murder-for-hire and money laundering for their role in the thwarted Tehran-backed plot, the U.S. Department of Justice said in a statement.
"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.
Garland did not name the alleged victim, but Mehdiyev was arrested last year in New York for having a rifle outside the Brooklyn home of journalist Masih Alinejad, a longtime critic of Iran's head-covering laws who has promoted videos of women violating those laws on social media.
WATCH | The Fifth Estate — The Dissidents:
Iran's mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
U.S. prosecutors in 2021 charged four Iranians alleged to be intelligence operatives for Tehran with plotting to kidnap a New York-based journalist and activist. While the target of the plot was not named, Reuters confirmed she was Alinejad.
"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," said U.S. Attorney Damian Williams in a statement.
Amirov was arrested on Thursday and will have a pretrial hearing in federal court in Manhattan later on Friday. Omarov was arrested in the Czech Republic earlier this month.
All three defendants are natives of Azerbaijan, which borders Iran.
Alinejad vows to continue speaking out against injustices
Mehdiyev has pleaded not guilty to one count of possessing a firearm with an obliterated serial number. He is being held at Brooklyn's Metropolitan Detention Center pending trial.
"The conduct charged shows how far Iranian actors are willing to go to silence critics, even attempting to assassinate a U.S. citizen on American soil," said FBI director Christopher Wray in a statement.
CBC's The Fifth Estate has previously detailed alleged attempts to target Iranian dissidents in Canada.
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. #WomanLifeFreedom pic.twitter.com/T9Hbp0iwG3—
Alinejad has previously spoken to CBC's Power & Politics about being targeted, characterizing it as being "like a scary movie."
Alinejad confirmed in a social media post on Friday that she was informed of the latest alleged plot and thanked the FBI.
But she called on the U.S. government to take a strong stand against Iran in the wake of mass arrests and several executions that have resulted in recent months, after widespread protests over the death of Mahsa Amini in custody last September.
In recent years, the U.S. and Iran have clashes over Iran's nuclear program, its support for proxy forces in the Middle East, and its deadly clamp-down on unrest. The U.S. enraged the regime in early 2020 with a drone strike that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani.