Justice Department announces new arrests in plot to kill New York-based journalist directed from Iran

FILE Masih Alinejad 2022

Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images

CNN  — 

The Justice Department announced new arrests Friday in a plot to kill a New York-based journalist and human rights activist who is critical of the Iranian government.

The three men charged, who are allegedly part of an Eastern European criminal organization with ties to Iran, are facing murder-for-hire and money laundering charges for plotting to kill journalist Masih Alinejad.

All three of the defendants, Attorney General Merrick Garland said Friday, are currently in custody.

“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,” Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said at a news conference unveiling the charges.

Alinejad vowed to continue her activism in a video statement released Friday shortly after the department announced the charges: “Let me make it clear: I’m not scared for my life.”

“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 virus(es), which is called Islamic Republic,” she said. “If we don’t take a strong action right now, we will face these terrorists on US soil more and more.”

One of the three men had been arrested this past summer in the Brooklyn neighborhood where Alinejad lives. At the time, he was charged with possessing a firearm after police found in the back seat of his vehicle a suitcase containing a “Norinco AK-47-style assault rifle … loaded with a round in the chamber and a magazine attached, along with a separate second magazine, and a total of approximately 66 rounds of ammunition,” according to a complaint.

The DOJ said in a statement Friday that since at least July, the three men have been “tasked with carrying out” the murder of Alinejad, “who previously has been the target of plots by the government of Iran to intimidate, harass and kidnap” her.

“As recently as 2020 and 2021, Iranian intelligence officials and assets plotted to kidnap the (Alinejad) from within the United States for rendition to Iran in an effort to silence the (Alinejad’s) criticism of the regime,” the department said in a statement.

In a CNN interview last year, Alinejad said that the Iranian government had been targeting her and her family for her efforts to give voice to the protest movement in the country where she was born.

“I’m not scared (for) my life at all because I know what I’m doing. I have only one life, and I dedicated my life to give voice to Iranian people inside Iran who bravely go to the streets – face guns and bullets to protest against Iranian regime – but this is happening in America,” she said at the time.

Alinejad was targeted in another alleged kidnapping plot by Iranian nationals in 2021 after she spoke out against the Islamic Republic. The plot was organized by an Iranian intelligence official, an indictment alleged, but Iran’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs denied any involvement, calling the accusation “baseless and ridiculous,” according to the semi-official news agency ISNA.

This story has been updated with additional details Friday.

CNN’s Sean Lyngass, Josh Campbell and Eliott C. McLaughlin contributed to this report.