U.S. prosecutors have charged three members of an Eastern European criminal organization which has ties to Iran’s government with conspiring to assassinate a journalist and activist who is a U.S. citizen, Attorney General Merrick Garland said on Friday.
Rafat Amirov, Polad Omarov and Khalid Mehdiyev were charged with murder-for-hire and money laundering for their role in the thwarted Tehran-backed plot, the Department of Justice said in a statement.
“The victim publicized (the) Iranian government’s human rights abuses, discriminatory treatment of women, suppression of democratic participation and expression and use of arbitrary imprisonment, torture and execution,” Garland said.
Garland did not name the alleged victim, but Mehdiyev was arrested last year in New York for having a rifle outside the Brooklyn home of journalist Masih Alinejad, a longtime critic of Iran’s head-covering laws who has promoted videos of women violating those laws on social media.
Mehdiyev pleaded not guilty to one count of possessing a firearm with an obliterated serial number. He is being held at Brooklyn’s Metropolitan Detention Center pending trial.
Iran’s mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
U.S. prosecutors last year charged four Iranians alleged to be intelligence operatives for Tehran with plotting to kidnap a New York-based journalist and activist. While the target of the plot was not named, Reuters confirmed she was Alinejad.
Amirov was arrested on Thursday and will have a pretrial hearing in federal court in Manhattan later on Friday. Omarov was arrested in the Czech Republic earlier this month, and the United States is seeking his extradition.
The United States in 2011 arrested one man it said was linked to an Iranian plot to assassinate the Saudi Arabian ambassador to Washington at the time at a restaurant he frequented in the capital.
Washington accuses Tehran of backing terrorism and pursuing nuclear arms, charges Iran denies.