US authorities on Tuesday charged four Iranian intelligence officials with conspiracy to kidnap a journalist and forcibly take her to Tehran.
Journalist Masih Alinejad, who is of Iranian origin, told The National that she was the target of the plot.
“They had plotted to kidnap me," she said.
US Attorney for the Southern District of New York Audrey Strauss announced the charges against the Iranian agents, who are accused “of kidnapping conspiracy, sanctions violations conspiracy, bank and wire fraud conspiracy and money laundering conspiracy charges".
The "defendants monitored and planned to kidnap a US citizen of Iranian origin who has been critical of the regime’s autocracy, and to forcibly take their intended victim to Iran, where the victim’s fate would have been uncertain at best”, the indictment read.
The accused are Alireza Farahani, Mahmoud Khazein, Kiya Sadeghi and Omid Noori. Niloufar Bahadorifar, who lives in the US, was also charged in the case and will be arraigned in a New York court.
The FBI helped uncover the plot, the Justice Department said.
“A US citizen living in the United States must be able to advocate for human rights without being targeted by foreign intelligence operatives,” Ms Strauss said.
FBI assistant director William Sweeney said the Iranian government was directly implicated in the plot.
“This is not some far-fetched movie plot. We allege a group, backed by the Iranian government, conspired to kidnap a US-based journalist here on our soil and forcibly return her to Iran. Not on our watch,” he said.
Jason Brodsky, a senior analyst at the Iran International TV station, called it was a “major case”.
“The Iranian regime is being accused by the Justice Department of hatching a plot to kidnap a US citizen of Iranian origin. This is a tactic that the Islamic republic has employed before,” Mr Brodsky said.
He pointed to the past cases of activist “Ruhollah Zam – who was lured from France to Iraq, then kidnapped, taken to Iran, and later executed – and Habib Chaab who was kidnapped in Turkey by the Iranian regime.”