The Justice Department has charged three men in a murder-for-hire-plot hatched by officials from Iran who targeted Masih Alinejad, an American human-rights activist in Brooklyn who has criticized the country’s repression of women, according to an indictment unsealed on Friday.
Prosecutors in the Southern District of New York have charged Rafat Amirov, 43, of Iran, Polad Omarov, 38, of the Czech Republic, and Khalid Mehdiyev, 24, of Yonkers on federal charges of money-laundering and murder for hire. The three men are members of an Eastern European criminal organization, known by its members as Thieves-in-Law, that was paid by the Iranian government, the indictment said.
The men were enlisted to assassinate Ms. Alinejad in the United States, the indictment said.
Mr. Mehdiyev was originally arrested in July, after he was found with a loaded AK-47 assault-style rifle outside Ms. Alinejad’s house. Mr. Mehdiyev, at the direction of the two other men, “was preparing imminently to execute the attack on the victim,” the indictment said.
“This matter is going to be over today, brother,” Mr. Omarov wrote in a message to Mr. Amirov on July 27, according to the indictment. “I told them to make a birthday present for me.”
The announcement of the charges in Washington on Friday comes as Attorney General Merrick B. Garland, engulfed by the furor surrounding the appointment of two special counsels investigating former President Donald J. Trump and President Biden over their handling of classified documents, has sought to emphasize external threats by increasingly aggressive foreign actors, especially Iran and China.
Lisa O. Monaco, the deputy attorney general, said at the news conference that the government was increasingly seeing “the blending of national security and criminal threats, as rogue nations and criminal organizations make common cause and share capabilities.”
“All too often,” she said, “they seek refuge in countries they believe will protect and empower them — in this case, Iran.”
Damian Williams, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District, said: “Let me be clear, in the United States, free speech is a hallmark of our Constitution. In Iran, it marks you for death. We will safeguard our citizens and their right to free expression.”
Ms. Alinejad, a journalist who has said that she was forced to leave Iran more than a decade ago, has been unsparing in her criticism of its government.
In a statement to The New York Times, Ms. Alinejad said she learned of the charges against the three men from the F.B.I. on Friday.
“It was shocking, but I’m not scared for my life,” she said. “My heroes are Iranian brave women who are leading a progressive revolution, which is called ‘woman, life, freedom,’ to get rid of this terrorist regime.”
The plot is the second time Iran has made Ms. Alinejad a target in the United States.
In July 2021, federal prosecutors in Manhattan announced that they had broken up a scheme to kidnap Ms. Alinejad and had charged four Iranians with participating in the conspiracy, including an Iranian intelligence official and others described as Iranian intelligence assets. All four remain fugitives, the government has said.