Who is Masih Alinejad? Iranian operatives plotted to kidnap NYC journalist

Brooklyn-based human rights journalist reveals she was intended target after Feds charge four Iranians over plot. FBI says 'not on our watch'


                            Who is Masih Alinejad? Iranian operatives plotted to kidnap NYC journalist
Journalist Masih Alinejad speaks onstage during Tina Brown's 7th Annual Women In The World Summit at the Lincoln Center on April 7, 2016 in New York City (Jemal Countess/Getty Images)

Brooklyn-based journalist and activist Masih Alinejad confirmed she was the intended target of a kidnapping plot by Iranian intelligence. She made the revelation after the FBI announced charges against four Iranians over a kidnapping plot, with their plans going as far back as June 2020.

In March, we reported on the pro-Iranian Telegram channel Kawtheryoon Electronic Team. A message on the channel claimed resistance factions are more powerful than they were in the past and are expanding to carry out operations within the US territory. The news comes at a difficult time for the Biden administration, which is seeking to repair the damage of the Trump era. In early March, a pair of B-52 bombers flew over the Middle East, for the second time under Biden's presidency, as he attempted to negotiate a return to the 2015 nuclear treaty. 

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As relationships remain frosty between Tehran and Washington, the charges against the four Iranians are likely to complicate the plot further. On July 13, the indictment against the four -- Alireza Shavaroghi Farahani, Mahmoud Khazein, Kiya Sadeghi, and Omid Noori -- in a Manhattan federal court was unsealed. Why target Alinejad? Here's what we know about her and why Iran wanted her back in the country.

Masih Alinejad speaks during the 10th Anniversary Women In The World Summit at the Lincoln Center on April 12, 2019, in New York City. (Mike Coppola/Getty Images)

Who is Masih Alinejad?

A journalist, author and activist, Alinejad was born in Iran, before being forced to move to the US. Her political activism goes back decades. She was first arrested in 1994 for producing anti-government leaflets. Since then, she has routinely been in and out of court. In 2001, she began her career as a journalist and quickly became a well-known face in the Iranian media as a parliamentary reporter. She has a degree in Communication Studies from Oxford Brookes University, from where she graduated in 2011. 

In 2005, Alinejad made international headlines for the first time. That year, she exposed the bonuses Iranian government officials were receiving, when they had promised to take pay cuts. She was ejected from Parliament as a result and was forced to leave the country for a while. The episode also led to her divorce. Undeterred, she continued to battle against the government and wrote the book, 'The Crown Of Thorns'.

Alinejad made headlines again in 2014 after launching 'My Stealthy Freedom', a Facebook page dedicated to helping battle Iran's mandatory hijab requirements. Her work led her to win the prestigious women's rights award by the UN Watch in 2015. Since 2015, she worked with the Voice of America (VOA), hosting a weekly primetime show called 'Tablet'. The show utilized video footage sent by Iranians, leading the government in 2019 to announce a 10-year prison sentence for anyone sending her videos.

In September 2019, Alinejad's family was arrested by Iranian police and have since become critics of her work. That led her to sue the Iranian government in a US federal court for harassment. In the meantime, she continues to expose the Iranian government on her show, which is what led to the plot against her. Reportedly, she was to be lured to a third country from where she would be kidnapped, but Alinejad's family declined to participate leading to the efforts to kidnap her from New York. 

Masih Alinejad meets Mike Pompeo on February 4, 2019, in Washington DC. (US Virtual Embassy, Iran)

Kidnap plan foiled by FBI

According to the indictment, Iranian intelligence wanted to kidnap Alinejad and take her back to Iran. The Justice Department (DoJ) did not specifically mention she was the target, the indictment describes the target as "a journalist, author, and human rights activist, residing in Brooklyn, New York." She confirmed she was the target in an interview with The National, saying, "They had plotted to kidnap me."

According to the indictment, the Iranians also had her home under surveillance. They planned to kidnap her, and take her to Caracas, in Venezuela by boat. From there, it was believed she would be taken to Iran with little trouble since Venezuela has good relations with Iran. Had the plot succeeded, "the victim’s fate would have been uncertain at best," the DoJ noted. "This is not some far-fetched movie plot, " FBI Assistant Director William F Sweeney Jr said. "We allege a group, backed by the Iranian government, conspired to kidnap a US-based journalist here on our soil and forcibly return her to Iran. Not on our watch," he added, according to the New York Daily Post

The four Iranians have been charged with conspiracy to kidnap, conspiracy to violate the sanctions against Iran, conspiracy to commit bank fraud, and conspiracy to launder money. A fifth, Niloufar Bahadorifar, was arrested in California on July 1 and is also believed to be linked to the plot. According to The Daily Beast, Bahadorifar has been charged with conspiracy to violate sanctions, conspiracy to commit bank fraud, structuring fraudulent deposits, and conspiracy to launder money. It is believed Bahadorifar provided financial services to the four for over five years. 

Farahani, Khazein, Sadeghi, and Noori's current whereabouts are unknown. It was last reported that they live in Iran and hence have not been taken into custody. The indictment names Farahani as an Iranian intelligence official, and the other three as assets. In a series of tweets, Alinejad confirmed the plot against her and even revealed she was receiving police protection for over two weeks as a result.

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