US prosecutors have charged four Iranians, alleged to be intelligence operatives for Tehran, with plotting to kidnap a New York journalist who was critical of Iran, according to a Justice Department indictment unsealed on Tuesday.
While the indictment did not name the target of the plot, Reuters has confirmed she is Iranian-American journalist Masih Alinejad, who has contributed to the Voice of America Persian language service and reports on human rights issues in Iran.
Asked by Reuters to confirm that Alinejad was the target of the plot, the Department of Justice declined to comment.
According to the indictment, the four Iranians hired private investigators under false pretenses to surveil the unnamed journalist in Brooklyn, videotaping the victim’s family and home as part of a plot to take the person out of the country.
The four defendants planned “to forcibly take their intended victim to Iran, where the victim’s fate would have been uncertain at best,” said US Attorney Audrey Strauss for the Southern District of New York.
Reached by phone on Tuesday after the indictment was released, Alinejad said she was in a state of shock.
She said she had been working with the Federal Bureau of Investigation since the agency approached her eight months ago with photographs taken by the plotters.
“They showed me the Islamic Republic had gotten very close,” she said.
Alinejad said she had drawn the ire of Iran by publicizing women in Iran protesting laws requiring headcoverings, as well as accounts of Iranians killed in 2019’s demonstrations.
Prosecutors said in a press release that the journalist was targeted by Iran “for mobilizing public opinion in Iran and around the world to bring about changes to the regime’s laws and practices.”
Alinejad said the FBI agents moved her and her husband to a series of safe houses as they investigated the case.
She said she was still reeling from reading the indictment.
“I can’t believe I’m not even safe in America,” she said.