A criminal group linked to the Iranian regime called on a leader of the Canadian Hells Angels to organize the assassination of a dissident in exile in the United States, according to an FBI investigation carried out with the help of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police ( RCMP) and Canadian intelligence services.
What there is to know
The FBI says it has foiled a plot sponsored by Tehran to kill an Iranian dissident who took refuge in the United States as well as an Iranian woman who accompanied him.
According to authorities, the contract was given to a senior member of the Hells Angels in Canada.
The Hells Angel is co-accused with another Canadian as well as an Iranian organized crime boss accused of being a link to his country’s security services.
“We have a team of four men ready”, specified the cryptic message sent by Hells Angel Damion Ryan to his interlocutor in Iran, at the beginning of February 2021.
For several weeks, the Canadian biker had been exchanging messages with people in Iran. There was talk of a “job”, “tools”, and a jackpot of $350,000 which would be paid to him to eliminate a man and a woman from Iran who had taken refuge in Maryland. An underling of the biker had also exchanged bikers by offering to arrange for the target to receive at least “half the magazine in the head”.
The messages were made public Monday during a filing of murder conspiracy charges against Ryan and his alleged accomplices in federal court in Minnesota.
In a statement, the US government said the biker had been recruited by “a network of individuals who targeted Iranian dissidents and opposition activists for assassination at the request of the Iranian regime.”
Still according to Washington, the network is in the service of Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security, but it is run by an Iranian drug trafficker named Naji Ibrahim Sharifi-Zindashti. The latter is said to have carried out “several acts of transnational repression, including assassinations and kidnappings in several jurisdictions in an attempt to silence those who are perceived as critics of the Iranian regime”.
“Iranian security forces protect Zindashti and his criminal empire, allowing Zindashti to thrive in the country’s drug market and live a life of luxury while his network exports the regime’s repression,” the statement continued. According to American authorities, Zindashti’s network is linked to murders committed in several countries, including Canada, the United Arab Emirates and Turkey.
According to the US indictment in Maryland, it was in 2021 that Zindashti’s network made contact with Damion Ryan. The 43-year-old biker has already been described by the RCMP as one of the most prolific members of organized crime in Canada.
Ryan is officially a member of a Hells Angels chapter in Greece, but he has found himself in the crosshairs of police services in British Columbia, Manitoba and Ottawa. He is currently detained following his arrest for drug and weapons trafficking charges. According to an RCMP interview with the daily Winnipeg Free Press in 2022, he is also a member of the Wolfpack, an alliance of members of different “highest level” criminal organizations who collaborate in the distribution of drugs across Canada.
In 2021, Vancouver police released Ryan’s photo, specifying that he was involved in conflict with other criminal groups and represented a danger to the public.
According to the U.S. indictment, the FBI says it learned that a Hells Angels associate from Western Canada, Adam Richard Pearson, 29, was recruited by Ryan to handle the murder contract for the Iranian sponsors.
At the time, Pearson was living under an assumed identity in the United States, having fled Canada where he was wanted for the murder of a rival drug dealer. Pearson would have set up a team of killers on American soil to eliminate the Iranian opponent. Nothing in the evidence presented thus far indicates that Ryan and Pearson had knowledge of the political nature of the murder contract and the ties to the Iranian regime.
The plan was never carried out. “Thanks to the skillful work of federal prosecutors and law enforcement officers, this contract murder plot was disrupted,” said Federal Prosecutor Andrew Luger. The United States highlighted the assistance of the RCMP and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) in this matter.
Both Ryan and Pearson were arrested in Canada in connection with their other criminal activities. They now face a series of charges in the United States in connection with the murder plot.
Naji Ibrahim Sharifi-Zindashti is also accused, but according to American authorities, he is in Iran. There is little chance he will ever see the inside of an American courtroom. He has already been arrested more than once in Turkey in connection with his criminal activities. CNN has already revealed, citing Turkish security sources, that he was considered an agent of Iranian intelligence services in Turkey. The Turkish daily Hurriyet has already written that Naji Ibrahim Sharifi-Zindashti had organized the kidnapping in Istanbul of an Arab separatist leader who had been forcibly brought back to Iran, where he was wanted by the authorities.
Daily life Vancouver Sun previously revealed that two British Columbia gang members traveled to Dubai in 2016 where they killed a Turkish drug dealer at the behest of Naji Ibrahim Sharifi-Zindashti.