US sanctions four Iranians over plot to kidnap New York activist

The United States on Friday sanctioned four Iranian intelligence operatives who federal prosecutors say plotted to abduct a New York-based activist and journalist. 

The US Treasury Department announced the designation of senior Iranian intelligence official Alireza Shahvaroghi Farahani, as well as three other Iranian operatives, Mahmoud Khazein, Kiya Sadeghi and Omid Noori. The Iranian agents, who remain at large, in July were indicted in Manhattan federal court for allegedly conspiring to kidnap an American on US soil.  

Masih Alinejad, a prominent Iranian-American author and women’s rights activist living in the Brooklyn borough of New York City, confirmed in mid-July that she was the target of their failed operation. Last year, the FBI contacted Alinejad and warned of the surveillance and plot against her. 

Reached by Al-Monitor, Alinejad described the sanctions as “just a tiny step from the Biden administration toward a terrorist regime.” She called on the Treasury Department to also take action against the senior Iranian intelligence officials who authorized the plot. 

The Treasury Department said the Farhani-led network was tasked with targeting dissidents in the US, the United Kingdom, Canada and the United Arab Emirates. They used a private investigator to conduct surveillance on Alinejad, US officials say, and laundered money from Iran to pay for it.

Tehran has previously described the allegations as “baseless.”

“Iran’s attempt to kidnap a US citizen on US soil because she used her freedom of speech to criticize the Iranian government is unacceptable and an egregious violation of fundamental international norms,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement Friday. 

The top US diplomat added that the US is “aware of ongoing Iranian interest in targeting other American citizens, including current and former US officials.”

The four Iranians were blacklisted under Executive Order 13553, which freezes the US assets of those involved in serious human rights abuses in Iran. US citizens are generally barred from dealing with them, and non-Americans who engage in certain transactions with the blacklisted Iranians could themselves be exposed to sanctions. 

The Treasury Department said the four men acted on behalf of the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security, which in 2012 was designated over human rights abuses and support for terrorism.

“The Iranian government’s kidnapping plot is another example of its continued attempt to silence critical voices, wherever they may be,” Andrea Gacki, director of the US Office of Foreign Assets Control, said in a statement. “Targeting dissidents abroad demonstrates that the government’s repression extends far beyond Iran’s borders.”

The designations come as talks in Vienna aimed at reviving the 2015 nuclear deal remain on hold, with no date scheduled for a seventh round. This week, the Iranian Foreign Ministry said negotiations in the Austrian capital are not expected to resume for another two to three months. 

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