A New York man is among three people implicated in an alleged plot to assassinate an Iranian-American journalist on US soil over her criticism of the Iranian government, authorities said.
Westchester County resident Khalid Mehdiyev, age 24, of Yonkers, is named in a superseding indictment that was unsealed in the Southern District of New York on Friday, Jan. 27, against three people for murder-for-hire and money-laundering charges.
Federal prosecutors allege that Mehdiyev is a member of a violent Eastern European criminal organization that has ties to Iran and has engaged in murders, kidnappings, assaults, and extortions.
In the summer of 2022, the group allegedly began plotting to murder the victim - identified by the New York Times as Brooklyn journalist and author Masih Alinejad - after a previous plan by Iranian intelligence officials to kidnap her was uncovered by the FBI.
Alinejad has reported on the Iranian government’s human rights abuses and its suppression of political expression.
According to prosecutors, two of the organization's leaders provided Mehdiyev with targeting information in order to conduct surveillance on Alinejad's home. Investigators identified the two other suspects as Rafat Amirov, of Iran, and Polad Omarov, of the Czech Republic.
Mehdiyev allegedly took photos and videos outside Alinejad's home that were then shared with Amirov and Omarov, investigators said.
The group later sent Mehdiyev $30,000 in cash that he used to purchase an AK-47-style assault rifle, along with two magazines for ammunition and at least 66 rounds, according to prosecutors.
At one point, he allegedly bragged in messages with the other suspects that he had bought himself a “war machine.”
Investigators said Mehdiyev spent days doing “reconnaissance” work in Alinejad's neighborhood, sharing updates on her activities, and sending photos and videos.
On July 24, 2022, he allegedly told the two others that he was “at the crime scene.” Omarov reportedly replied, “You are a man!”
Prosecutors said Mehdiyev then informed the others that Alinejad's home was “blocked from both sides, it will be a show once she steps out of the home.” Omarav forwarded the report to Amirov, who allegedly responded, “God willing.”
However, Mehdiyev was unable to carry out the killing that day and returned several times after looking for the right opportunity, according to investigators.
The three suspects allegedly brainstormed different ways they could lure Alinejad outside, including by attempting to ask her for flowers from her garden.
On July 28, 2022, Mehdiyev allegedly sent Omarov a video from inside his car showing the assault rifle, along with the message, “We are ready.”
According to prosecutors, Alinejad grew suspicious after noticing the activity outside her home and left the area.
Shortly after driving away from the home, Mehdiyev was stopped for a traffic violation. During a search of his car, police reportedly found the rifle along with 66 rounds of ammunition, approximately $1,100 in cash, and a black ski mask.
Mehdiyev was arrested the following day. Omarov was arrested in the Czech Republic on Wednesday, Jan. 4, while Amirov was apprehended in New York on Thursday, Jan. 26.
“The conduct charged shows how far Iranian actors are willing to go to silence critics, even attempting to assassinate a US citizen on American soil,” FBI Director Christopher Wray said in a statement. “We are determined to safeguard the rights of all Americans from the oppressive reach of hostile regimes.”
Mehdiyev, Amirov, and Omarov are each charged with:
- Conspiracy to commit murder-for-hire
- Conspiracy to commit money laundering
- Mehdiyev is additionally charged with possessing a firearm with an obliterated serial number.
If convicted on the first three charges, they could be sentenced to a maximum of 40 years in prison.
Alinejad thanked the FBI in a video post on Twitter Friday, Jan. 27, saying in part:
“Let me make it clear, I’m not scared for my life because I knew that killing, hanging, assassinating, torturing, raping is in the DNA of the Islamic Republic. 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.”
She called on the American government to take “strong action” against Iran.
“You cannot negotiate with a terrorist regime. … This is the time that we have to pay attention to innocent people in Iran who don’t have any protection,” she continued. “I’m going to continue giving voice to brave Iranian leaders, women, men inside Iran who are trying to save the rest of the world from one of the most dangerous viruses, which is called Islamic Republic.”
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