U.S. prosecutors have charged four Iranians thought to be intelligence operatives in Tehran with plotting to kidnap a New York-based journalist who was critical of Iran, according to a Justice Department indictment filed Tuesday.
While the indictment does not mention the target of the plot, the Reuters news agency confirmed that she is Iranian-American journalist Masih Alinejad, who has contributed to VOA’s Persian-language service and reports on human rights issues in Iran.
Asked by Reuters news agency to confirm that Ms Alinejad was the target of the plot, the Justice Department declined to comment.
According to the indictment, the four Iranians hired private investigators under false pretenses to spy on the unnamed journalist in Brooklyn, videotaping the victim’s family and home as part of a plot to take the person abroad.
The four defendants planned to “take their target victim by force to Iran, where the fate of the victim would have been uncertain at best,” said New York Southern District Attorney Audrey Strauss.
Contacted by phone on Tuesday after the indictment was made public, Ms Alinejad said she was in a state of shock.
She said she had collaborated with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) since the agency presented her eight months ago with photos taken by the conspirators.
“They told me that the Islamic Republic was very close,” she said.
Ms. Alinejad said she had drawn Iran’s anger through the publication of women in Iran protesting against laws requiring the wearing of the headscarf, as well as through the recounting of stories of Iranians killed in the 2019 demonstrations.
Prosecutors said in a press release that the journalist had been targeted in Iran for “mobilizing public opinion in Iran and around the world to bring about changes in the regime’s laws and practices.”
Ms Alinejad said FBI agents moved her and her husband to a series of safe houses while investigating the case.
“I can not believe I’m not sure in America either,” she said. / VOA