Freedom is real in America. The battle for freedom never ends. We must be vigilant and not let down our guard.
These truisms came into focus last week when U. S. Department of Justice prosecutors revealed a plot by the Iranian government to kidnap an American journalist in New York and take her back to Iran, where she likely would have been imprisoned or executed.
In recent years, Iranian intelligence officers have tricked a number of overseas activists to travel to destinations where they were kidnapped and sent back to Iran, U.S. authorities said.
While the indictment did not identify the target of the plot, Reuters news agency has confirmed she is Iranian-American journalist Masih Alinejad, who has contributed to the U.S. government-funded Voice of America Persian language service and reports on human rights issues in Iran.
Alinejad, reached by phone by Reuters, said she was in a state of shock. She said she had been working with the FBI since the agency approached her eight months ago with photographs taken by the plotters.
Reuters further reported that four Iranians hired private investigators under false pretenses to surveil the journalist in Brooklyn, videotaping her family and home as part of a plot to kidnap her, according to prosecutors.
The four defendants planned “to forcibly take their intended victim to Iran, where the victim’s fate would have been uncertain at best,” said U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss.
The Iranian operatives told the private investigators in Manhattan that Alinejad was a missing person from Dubai who had fled the country to avoid paying a debt, prosecutors said.
Iran directed the operation against the journalist with “the intention to lure our citizen back to Iran as retaliation for their freedom of expression,” said Assistant Director Alan E. Kohler Jr. of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division.
In 2019, Iranian intelligence officers lured Ruhollah Zam, a journalist living in France, out of the country, capturing and later executing him in Iran on sedition charges, prosecutors said.
Alinejad said she had drawn the ire of Iran by publicizing women in Iran protesting laws requiring head coverings, as well as accounts of Iranians killed in demonstrations in 2019.
Alinejad said Iranian operatives had tried multiple times to lure her to Turkey with threats and promises to meet family, she said.
FBI agents warned Alinejad earlier this year that Iran was planning to kidnap her, moving the journalist and her husband to a series of safe houses as they investigated the case. The kidnappers considered using a high-speed boat to ferry her directly to Venezuela.
She said she was still reeling from reading the indictment. “I can’t believe I’m not even safe in America,” she said.
This incident illustrates the criminality of the Iranian government. It also shows that America must be vigilant in battling political repression whenever a rogue state tries to export its repression to our land of freedom.