On January 27, the United States indicted three men for plotting to assassinate Masih Alinejad, a Brooklyn-based activist critical of the Iranian government. The men, members of an eastern European criminal organization, were working for people based in Iran. The plot reflected Iran’s determination to silence critics, even in the United States. The plotters faced up to 40 years in prison on murder-for-hire and money laundering charges. One faced an additional five years for possessing a firearm with an obliterated serial number. The Department of Justice indicted the following men:
- Rafat Amirov, a leader of the criminal organization who resides in Iran and was arrested in the United States in January 2023
- Polad Omarov, a leader of the criminal organization who resides in eastern Europe and was arrested in the Czech Republic in January 2023
- Khalid Mehdiyev, a member of the criminal organization who resides in New York and was arrested in the United States in July 2022
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.— Masih Alinejad 🏳️ (@AlinejadMasih) January 27, 2023
Islamic Republic is ISIS with oil. #WomanLifeFreedom pic.twitter.com/T9Hbp0iwG3
Between July 20 and 28, 2022, Mehdiyev repeatedly traveled to Alinejad’s neighborhood to surveil her home and observe her activities. On July 28, he was stopped for a traffic violation after leaving the area. Police searched the car and found an AK-47-style assault rifle, 66 rounds of ammunition, some $1,100 in cash, and a black ski mask.
“The conduct charged in today’s case shows how far Iranian actors are willing to go to silence critics of the Iranian regime,” FBI Director Christopher Wray said in a statement. He warned that Iran had become increasingly brazen. “In just the past couple years, actors associated with Iran have launched a ransomware attack on a children’s hospital in New England, attempted to assassinate the former U.S. National Security Advisor on U.S. soil, and now plotted to silence a U.S. citizen.” Attorney General Merrick Garland pledged to “stop at nothing to identify, find, and bring to justice those who endanger the safety of the American people.”
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Alinejad is a Voice of America contractor and fierce critic of Iran’s compulsory dress code. She was born in Iran but fled the country in 2009 after writing articles critical of then-President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. She lived in the United Kingdom for five years before obtaining a green card in 2014. She became a U.S. citizen in October 2019. Alinejad runs a Facebook page “My Stealthy Freedom,” where she posts videos of Iranian women filming themselves without the mandatory hijab, or head covering, in public. In August 2020, Iranian hardliners urged the intelligence services to abduct Alinejad and bring her back to Iran. In July 2021, the United States charged four Iranians for plotting to kidnap Alinejad. The following are FBI, DOJ, and White House statements on the 2023 indictments.
FBI Director Christopher Wray
Today’s unsealing shows that just one year after the FBI and our partners disrupted an Iranian group’s attempt to silence an American journalist on U.S. soil, the same person was targeted for assassination again by a group with ties to Iran.
Fortunately, their plot failed—because we didn’t.
Through the extraordinary efforts of the FBI agents and investigators involved, working with partners like the NYPD, we successfully disrupted this heinous murder-for-hire plot. The arrest announced today demonstrates our commitment to follow the facts wherever they lead, to work our way up to the leaders of criminal plots like this one even after they’ve been disrupted, and then use our long reach to bring those responsible here, to face justice in the United States.
The conduct charged in today’s case shows how far Iranian actors are willing to go to silence critics of the Iranian regime—even attempting an assassination right here in the United States. But looking at the threat from Iran more broadly, we’ve seen the Iranian regime become more aggressive and more brazen across vectors.
In just the past couple years, actors associated with Iran have launched a ransomware attack on a children’s hospital in New England, attempted to assassinate the former U.S. National Security Advisor on U.S. soil, and now plotted to silence a U.S. citizen—a journalist who publicized the Iranian government’s human rights abuses—by carrying out a murder in the heart of New York City.
If that doesn’t show how serious the threat from Iran is to Americans right here in America, I don’t know what does.
Over the past few years, Iranian intelligence and security services, working with their proxies, have increased the use of transnational repression tactics to target political opponents. Their tactics include assassination and kidnapping plots, surveillance, cyber operations, the abuse of international law enforcement tools, and the intimidation of family and friends in Iran—really, any means of harassment they can conceive of.
And the Iranian government’s efforts to silence its critics aren’t confined to the borders of Iran. Iran is willing to engage in violent repression all over the world, including right here in the United States, violating both our sovereignty and international norms.
In response, the FBI is, of course, working closely with our traditional partners across the U.S. government. But we’re also bringing others to the fight, raising awareness and forging partnerships with the Iranian-American community, universities and academia, state and local governments, and foreign partners around the world. Today, every one of those partners is more awake and alert to the threat and committed to calling out the Iranian government for violating the rule of law.
But as the arrest and indictment announced today show, on top of calling attention to the threat of Iranian transnational repression, we will continue to use every tool at our disposal to hunt down those who violate our laws, and bring them to justice.
A federal court in New York today unsealed murder-for-hire and money laundering charges against three members of an Eastern European criminal organization for plotting the murder of a U.S. citizen who has been targeted by the Government of Iran for speaking out against the regime’s human rights abuses.
According to court documents, Rafat Amirov, aka Farkhaddin Mirzoev, aka Pᴎᴍ, aka Rome, 43, of Iran; Polad Omarov, aka Araz Aliyev, aka Polad Qaqa, aka Haci Qaqa, 38, of the Czech Republic and Slovenia; and Khalid Mehdiyev, 24, of Yonkers, New York, are charged with money laundering and murder-for-hire in a superseding indictment unsealed today in the Southern District of New York. Amirov, who resides in Iran, arrived in the Southern District of New York on Jan. 26, and will be arraigned on charges before Magistrate Judge Sarah L. Cave today. Mehdiyev was arrested on July 29, 2022, on charges contained in an underlying criminal complaint and will be arraigned on the charges in the superseding indictment before the Honorable Colleen McMahon on Jan. 31, 2023, at 4 p.m. ET. Omarov was arrested in the Czech Republic on Jan. 4, 2023, and the United States will request his extradition on the charges in the superseding indictment.
“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,” said Attorney General Merrick B. Garland. “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. 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.”
“Today’s indictment exposes a dangerous menace to national security – a double threat posed by a vicious transnational crime group operating from what it thought was the safe haven of a rogue nation: Iran,” said Deputy Attorney General Lisa O. Monaco. “As national security and criminal threats continue to blend, the Department of Justice will use all its tools to zealously protect freedom and hold accountable all those who would use violence to undermine it.”
“The indictment unsealed today reflects the FBI’s commitment to follow the facts wherever they lead, to work our way up to the leaders of criminal plots wherever they are, and to use our long reach to bring those responsible here to face justice in the United States,” said FBI Director Christopher Wray. “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. We are determined to safeguard the rights of all Americans from the oppressive reach of hostile regimes.”
“Today’s charges underscore the Department’s commitment to protecting Americans and our fundamental values in the face of all forms of transnational repression,” said Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen of the Justice Department’s National Security Division. “To foreign actors who plot violence on our soil believing they are out of our reach, know that we will pursue you, wherever you may be, until we deliver justice.”
“As alleged, the defendants are members of an organized crime group hired to assassinate, right here in New York City, a U.S. citizen of Iranian origin who has been critical of the regime’s autocracy and its disregard for human rights,” said U.S. Attorney Damian Williams for the Southern District of New York. “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. Thanks to the extraordinary efforts of the career prosecutors and FBI agents who led the investigation, this new plot to silence the victim has been disrupted and the defendants will face justice in an American court.”
According to the allegations contained in the superseding indictment, other court filings, and statements made during court proceedings:
Amirov is a leader in an Eastern European criminal organization (the Organization) who resides in Iran. Omarov also holds a leadership role in the Organization and resides in Eastern Europe. Mehdiyev, a member of the Organization, resides in Yonkers, New York. The Organization has ties to Iran and is violent, engaging in murders, kidnappings, assaults, and extortions, and members typically identify themselves with tattoos and other displays of eight-pointed stars.
Since at least July 2022, the Organization was tasked with carrying out the murder of a U.S. citizen of Iranian origin (the Victim), who previously has been the target of plots by the Government of Iran to intimidate, harass and kidnap the Victim. The Victim is a journalist, author and human rights activist, residing in Brooklyn, New York, who has publicized the Government of Iran’s human rights abuses and suppression of political expression, including in connection with continuing protests against the regime across Iran. As recently as 2020 and 2021, Iranian intelligence officials and assets plotted to kidnap the Victim from within the United States for rendition to Iran in an effort to silence the Victim’s criticism of the regime. That plot was disrupted and exposed by the FBI and led to the filing of federal kidnapping conspiracy and other charges in the Southern District of New York against several participants in the plot in United States v. Farahani, et al., 21 Cr. 430.
About one year after the Farahani charges were filed, the Organization was tasked with carrying out the Victim’s assassination on U.S. soil. Beginning in approximately mid-July 2022, Amirov sent targeting information – which Amirov had received from other individuals in Iran – about the Victim and the Victim’s residence to Omarov. Omarov, in turn, communicated the targeting information to Mehdiyev in order to begin conducting surveillance of the Victim and reconnaissance of the Victim’s residence and surrounding neighborhood. Mehdiyev sent photographs and videos of the Victim’s residence to Omarov for further sharing with Amirov and the plot’s orchestrators in Iran.
After Mehdiyev’s initial surveillance of the Victim’s residence, Amirov and Omarov arranged for the delivery of a $30,000 cash payment to Mehdiyev in New York City in furtherance of the plot. Mehdiyev used a portion of this cash payment to buy an AK-47-style assault rifle along with two magazines for ammunition and at least 66 rounds. Mehdiyev bragged in electronic communications that he had procured for himself a “war machine.”
Between July 20 and 28, 2022, Mehdiyev repeatedly traveled to the Victim’s neighborhood to conduct surveillance and reconnaissance, sending reports of the Victim’s activities, photographs, and videos to Omarov for further distribution to Amirov. On July 24, 2022, after arriving at the Victim’s residence, Mehdiyev reported to Omarov that Mehdiyev was “at the crime scene.” Omarov encouraged Mehdiyev, “You are a man!” Mehdiyev described to Omarov that “we blocked it from both sides, it will be a show once she steps out of the house.” Omarov forwarded this report to Amirov, who responded, “God willing.”
Mehdiyev was unable to carry out the assassination that day and returned on several subsequent days to seek out opportunities to complete the murder mission. Amirov, Omarov and Mehdiyev schemed different strategies to attempt to draw the Victim out, including by attempting to ask the Victim for flowers from the Victim’s garden. On July 28, 2022, Mehdiyev sent Omarov a video taken from inside the car Mehdiyev was driving showing the assault rifle, along with the message that “we are ready.” The Victim, after observing suspicious activity outside the residence, left the area, and Mehdiyev drove away shortly afterwards. After Mehdiyev drove away from the Victim’s residence, he was stopped after a traffic violation, and during a subsequent search of the car, police officers found the assault rifle, 66 rounds of ammunition, approximately $1,100 in cash, and a black ski mask.
Amirov, Omarov, and Mehdiyev are charged with: (1) murder-for-hire, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison; (2) conspiracy to commit murder-for-hire, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison; and (3) conspiracy to commit money laundering, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. Mehdiyev is additionally charged with possessing a firearm with an obliterated serial number, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.
The FBI and its New York Field Office Counterintelligence-Cyber Division, the New York FBI Iran Threat Task Force, the New York FBI Counterintelligence Task Force and the New York FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force are investigating the case, with valuable assistance provided by the New York City Police Department (NYPD) and the NYPD Intelligence Bureau, as well as the Justice Department’s National Security Division and Office of International Affairs.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Michael D. Lockard, Jacob H. Gutwillig, and Matthew J.C. Hellman for the Southern District of New York are prosecuting the case, with valuable assistance provided by Trial Attorney Christopher M. Rigali of the National Security Division’s Counterintelligence and Export Control Section.
National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan
Today, the Department of Justice is bringing to a courthouse in New York a defendant charged in a failed plot to assassinate a U.S. citizen on U.S. soil who has been speaking out against the Iranian regime. That defendant, who is alleged to have directed the plot from Iran, is charged alongside the alleged hitman, arrested late last year in New York, as well as a third individual arrested overseas and facing extradition to the United States.
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.
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. It demonstrates our steadfast resolve to impose consequences, consistent with our laws, on those involved in plotting against our citizens and our interests. From the very beginning of this Administration, we have been clear that Iran’s apparatus of transnational repression and terrorism must be confronted through exposure, arrests, sanctions, and other means of accountability. Let there be no mistake: The United States will not allow Iran or other authoritarian regimes to export efforts to stifle peaceful dissent through threats and intimidation against those living lawfully in our country. And we will hold those involved in such activities accountable under the law, just as we are doing today.
We commend the Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation for their unwavering commitment to keeping Americans safe.
Attorney General Merrick Garland
This morning, a federal court in New York [unsealed] unveiled an indictment charging three individuals for their roles in a conspiracy to assassinate a United States citizen.
These charges arise out of an ongoing investigation into the Government of Iran's efforts to assassinate, on U.S. soil, a journalist, author, and human rights activist who is a U.S. Citizen of Iranian origin.
All three defendants are currently in custody.
In July of last year, one of the defendants, Khalid Mehdiyev, was found with an assault rifle, two ammunition magazines, and approximately 66 rounds of ammunition not far from the victim's home in Brooklyn, New York. He was arrested by NYPD officers and charged with a federal firearms offense.
As detailed in the superseding indictment unsealed today, Mehdiyev was not acting alone.
We allege that Mehdiyev and his co-conspirators, Polad Omarov and Rafat Amirov, are members of an Eastern European criminal organization with ties to Iran.
As alleged in the indictment, the Government of Iran has previously targeted dissidents around the world, including the Victim, who oppose the regime's violations of human rights.
And as outlined in this and prior indictments, the Victim in this case has long been a target of the Iranian Government.
In 2021, we charged an Iranian intelligence officer and three Iranian intelligence assets with plotting to kidnap the Victim from within the United States for rendition to Iran and likely execution, in order to silence the Victim.
The Government of Iran has continued to target the Victim since then.
The indictment unsealed today alleges that individuals in Iran tasked defendant Amirov with targeting the victim in a murder-for-hire plot. Amirov, who resided in Iran, is a leader of the Eastern European criminal organization.
We allege that Amirov then directed defendant Omarov, another leader of the organization, who in turn directed defendant Mehdiyev, a member of the organization, to carry out the plot. Omarov resided in Eastern Europe. Mehdiyev was living in the United States.
As alleged in the indictment:
After receiving the directive from Amirov, Omarov sent Mehdiyev photographs of the Victim and the Victim's home, as well as the Victim's address.
Mehdiyev traveled to the victim's residence, where he took photos and video that he sent back to Omarov. Omarov forwarded the photos and video back up the chain to Amirov.
Amirov then arranged a payment of $30,000 to Mehdiyev to buy an assault rifle and carry out the murder. Mehdiyev acquired an AK-47 style assault rifle with an obliterated serial number. He then traveled repeatedly to surveil the Victim and the Victim's household members at the Victim's residence.
During those surveillance missions, Mehdiyev provided reports on the Victim's activities to Omarov, which Omarov shared with Amirov.
On one morning, Omarov sent Mehdiyev a message, asking where he was. Mehdiyev responded: “at the crime scene.” Omarov responded, “Ok, you are a man.”
On the day he was arrested, Mehdiyev sent Omarov a video recording from inside his car, with a caption stating, “we are ready.” In the video, Mehdiyev pulled open the flap of a suitcase displaying the assault rifle.
Omarov forwarded the video to Amirov, who replied that Mehdiyev should “keep the car clean.”
The indictment alleges that the defendants schemed to find ways to lure the Victim out of the residence to carry out the assassination.
But their plot was disrupted.
And all of the defendants will now stand trial in the United States for their alleged crimes.
Mehdiyev has been detained since his arrest last July.
Omarov is currently in the custody of our foreign partners, pending extradition to the United States.
And Amarov, the defendant who lived in Iran, is now in U.S. custody and will be presented later today in court.
I am grateful to the prosecutors, agents, and sand staff of DOJ's National Security Division, the FBI, and the Southern District of New York for their excellent work on this case.
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.
This activity posed such a threat to the Government of Iran that the Chief Judge of Iran's Revolutionary Courts warned that anyone who sent videos to the victim criticizing the regime would be sentenced to prison – especially videos contrary to criminal laws mandating that women and girls wear head coverings in public.
In the United States of America, our system of laws protects our citizens in the peaceful exercise of their constitutional and civil rights.
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.
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.
Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco
Today’s indictment exposes a dangerous menace to national security – a double threat posed by a vicious transnational crime group operating from what it thought was the safe haven of a rogue nation.
That rogue nation is the Islamic Republic of Iran, an all-too-familiar, repeat violator of human rights.
This case began with our investigation of Iran’s efforts to project power and extend its tentacles of oppression onto American shores – through the targeting of an Iranian-American journalist who has stood up to the brutal regime, shining a light on Iran’s abuse of human rights and women’s rights.
But this time, it was a newer actor who brought the campaign of violence into America: an Eastern European criminal organization made up of self-described “Oğru,” or thieves, who engaged in extortion, kidnapping, and – in this case – murder-for-hire.
The charges unsealed today show how organized crime, in pursuit of profits and operating from a rogue nation, can pose a grave threat to our national security and to the freedoms that we hold dear.
Increasingly, we are seeing national security and criminal threats blend, as rogue nations and criminal organizations make common cause and share capabilities. From ransomware groups targeting critical infrastructure to facilitators of sanctions evasion, these criminal actors embolden our enemies and threaten our national security.
All too often, they seek refuge in countries they believe will protect and empower them – in this case, Iran.
While they may think they are out of reach, our agents and prosecutors are uniquely equipped to combat this double threat with both law enforcement and national security tools.
This case also highlights the evolving threat and increasingly brazen conduct emanating from Iran.
I have spoken before about the threat Iran poses to our homeland through its networks and proxies.
- In the last year, we have charged members of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) with a plot to murder the former U.S. National Security Advisor;
- We’ve indicted Iranian hackers for targeting utility companies and other critical U.S. infrastructure;
- And we’ve called out Iran for a destructive cyberattack that crippled a partner government’s computer networks.
We will not tolerate this belligerent and criminal conduct. Instead, we will hold accountable those who would bring Iran’s campaign of violence to our shores. We will hold accountable those who seek to silence voices for human rights and women’s rights.
The charges announced today expose a dangerous – and ultimately thwarted – plot to export violent oppression to America. But today, we have demonstrated the strength and the reach of the Department of Justice and the rule of law.
Today’s actions show that the United States will zealously protect freedom and hold accountable all those who would use violence to undermine it.
Assistant Attorney General for National Security Matthew Olsen
This murder-for-hire plot directed against a prominent critic of the Iranian regime is yet another chilling example of the violent tactics used to silence those who speak out for the freedoms and safety of people around the world.
This is not the first time the Department has disrupted an Iran-based plot against this victim. Last year, DOJ indicted four individuals connected to Iranian intelligence with a kidnapping conspiracy aimed at forcibly returning the victim to Iran.
These charges are just the latest example of individuals in Iran directing deadly violence on U.S. soil. Last year, DOJ charged a member of the Iranian IRGC with an attempt to assassinate the former U.S. National Security Advisor.
We have the solemn duty to protect the American people from hostile foreign actors who would seek to harm them. Increasingly, authoritarian regimes engage in and support wide-ranging efforts to undermine our core values and the rule of law.
We face an alarming rise in plots emanating from Iran, China, Russia, and elsewhere, targeting people in the United States, often using criminal proxies and cutouts.
The Department remains steadfast in our determination to defend our fundamental American values of freedom of expression in the face of all forms of transnational repression.
To foreign actors who plot violence on our soil believing they are out of our reach, know that we will pursue you, wherever you may be.
The lead defendant in this case was a made member of a criminal organization living in Iran, who believed he could get away with plotting to kill an American in New York City. Now, he will face justice in a U.S. courtroom.
This is because of the dedication and partnership of the FBI, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, and the National Security Division, who are working every day to defend our nation’s security.