Tehran Said To Hire Eastern European Gang Members To Kill Brooklyn-Based Critic

Murder-for-hire charges are filed against three men who were allegedly tasked by Iran with assassinating a journalist and activist, Masih Alinejad.

AP/Markus Schreiber
Activist Masih Alinejad speaks at the World Economic Forum, Davos, Switzerland, January 19, 2023. AP/Markus Schreiber

Murder-for-hire charges have been filed at New York against three men who were allegedly tasked by Iran with assassinating a journalist and activist, Masih Alinejad, in her Brooklyn home.

According to release from the Department of Justice, Tehran hired the head of an eastern European criminal organization, Rafat Amirov, and one of the gang’s senior members, Polad Omarov, to kill Ms. Alinejad after a previous attempt at kidnapping her was foiled by the FBI.

A Yonkers resident, Khalid Mehdiyev, was allegedly used to conduct surveillance after Tehran supplied the gang with details about Ms. Alinejad’s Brooklyn residence. Mr. Mehdiyev was arrested last July near the home of Ms. Alinejad. He was allegedly armed with an assault rifle. On Thursday, Mr. Amirov was taken into custody while visiting Manhattan. Earlier this month, Mr. Omarov was arrested in the Czech Republic. He is awaiting extradition. 

“I’m shocked that the Iranian regime hired eastern European hitmen to kill me,” Ms. Alinejad told the Sun. “I guess a criminal regime hires other criminals to do its dirty deeds.”

She said she was grateful to law enforcement agencies for foiling the plot, “but I know that I also got lucky. As long as the Islamic Republic is in power, no one is safe. But for now, I will continue to expose their brutal and murdering ways.”

On her Twitter account, Ms. Alinejad added that she would like to meet with President Biden “and ask him to persuade its allies in the EU to designate IRGC as a terrorist organization.”

The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps in 2018 was listed by the Department of State as a terror organization. As part of the diplomacy surrounding a hoped-for renewal of the 2015 nuclear deal, Tehran demanded the delisting of the organization. Mr. Biden was eager to renew the deal, yet he declined to alter the Trump-era designation. 

Ms. Alinejad became famous in Iran and beyond with a decade-long campaign against the Islamic Republic’s mandatory hair cover for women. Her 2018 memoir, “The Wind in Hair: My Fight for Freedom in Modern Iran,” and her constant advocacy has earned her the ire of the regime.

In Iran, the struggle against forced wearing of the hijab has become central to a nationwide revolution against the regime that erupted following the death last September of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini. She died in custody following arrest by the so-called morality police for wearing her hijab inappropriately.

Regime officials have focused on Ms. Alinejad as the revolt’s instigator. Yet, they zeroed in on her as a top regime opponent much earlier. The IRGC, Tehran’s most violent arm, has long hatched plots to eliminate the perceived threat from a woman advocating a feminist message of freedom. 

In 2021 the FBI foiled a plot that according to a federal indictment involved hustling the journalist from her Brooklyn home to a waiting speedboat. The boat was to carry her to Venezuela, and from there to Tehran, where she presumably would have been subjected to a show trial and a likely hanging. 

Undeterred by its initial failure, the IRGC hatched a new plot, hiring the east European gang members. After Mr. Mehdiyev allegedly started casing Ms. Alinejad home, Messrs. Amirov and Omarov arranged for a “delivery of a $30,000 cash payment to Mehdiyev in NYC in furtherance of the plot,” the justice department charged.

Mr. Mehdiyev “used a portion of this cash payment to buy an AK-47-style assault rifle along with 2 magazines for ammunition and at least 66 rounds.” He then “bragged in electronic communications that he had procured for himself a ‘war machine,’” according to the charge. 

Ms. Alinejad “was targeted for exercising the rights to which every American citizen is entitled,” Attorney General Garland said. She “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.”

The IRGC makes use of assassination via surrogacy around the world. Several members of the Trump administration have been under extra federal protection due to Iranian threats. They include a former national security adviser, John Bolton, a former state secretary, Mike Pompeo, and a former Iran point man at the state department, Brian Hook. 

At Tehran, meanwhile, an armed man infiltrated the embassy of Azerbaijan on Friday, killing a security guard and injuring two others. Azerbaijan and Iran share a border and have intense relations. Following the attack, Baku announced it would evacuate the embassy and demanded a thorough investigation. None is likely. 

The hijab-based revolution and Iran’s arming of Russia in its Ukraine war have put off even some of the most appeasement-prone decision-makers in Europe and America. Yet, as Ms. Alinejad says, much more must be done to expose and isolate the IRGC and the entire Iranian regime.

The New York Sun

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