From the streets of British Columbia to the international murder plot: Who is Damion Ryan?

Who is the 43-year-old man who allegedly conspired with Iranian drug trafficker Naji Zindashti to murder an Iranian dissident?

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BC Hells Angel Damion Ryan has been targeted for death at least twice in the province’s long and bloody gang conflict.

And now the veteran mobster currently awaiting trial in Manitoba on drug importation and other charges is accused of hiring hitmen in an international murder plot with political overtones.

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The Justice Department’s Ian McLeod said Tuesday that any extradition proceedings “can be conducted at the same time as domestic criminal proceedings,” which must conclude before the person is handed over for extradition, unless otherwise ordered.

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So who is the 43-year-old man who allegedly conspired with Iranian drug trafficker Naji Zindashti three years ago to murder an Iranian dissident and a second person then living in Maryland?

Doug Spencer, a retired Vancouver gang police officer, said Tuesday that he met Ryan when he was a young man living in social housing on the city’s east side.

“I was a kid growing up in the Skeena projects… It was just a really difficult area to grow up in: very low income, zero support,” Spencer said.

He watched Ryan’s evolution and how he began to “rise through the ranks” in the Lower Mainland gang landscape.

In 2005, Ryan was convicted along with Paul Araki of discharging a firearm, aggravated assault, robbery and burglary in connection with a violent home invasion to steal proceeds from a marijuana grow. The cultivator was beaten and shot several times, but survived.

Ryan was then affiliated with the Independent Soldiers gang and continued to get into trouble. In August 2010, RCMP responded to a shooting near the Burnaby home where Ryan lived with his girlfriend. After finding three guns in the bushes outside, they searched Ryan’s basement suite and found three handguns and an AK-47. That fall he was charged with 30 counts of firearms possession. The charges were later dropped after a judge ruled that police had violated his constitutional rights during the search.

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In December 2010, Ryan was one of 10 people shot with automatic weapons as they left a birthday party for a friend at the Best Neighbors restaurant on Oak Street in Vancouver. Police said the attack was retaliation for the murder two months earlier of Gurmit Dhak, a gangster affiliated with the UN gang.

Ryan’s name later emerged in connection with plots to kill UN gangsters in retaliation. By then he was part of the Wolfpack gang alliance, made up of some Independent Soldiers, some Red Scorpion gangsters, and some Hells Angels.

An informant told Vancouver police in April 2012 that Ryan and two others “were planning a ‘gut-out’ or shootout,” according to evidence at another gangster’s trial. Police then saw Ryan and others driving through a Burnaby neighborhood and believed they were looking for someone.

damion ryan
Major RCMP raid on notorious Ottawa crime house. Police confiscated 11 weapons and arrested wanted Hells Angel Damion Ryan in 2022. Photo by Tony Caldwell /postmedia

Ryan moved to Ottawa, where he joined the Hells Angels Nomads chapter, which later disbanded after an internal dispute. He ended up moving to Greece to join the Attica chapter.

Spencer said he believes the Hells Angels wanted Ryan to leave the country because “his life was at risk because he pissed off the wrong people. So I think they moved it there as some kind of corporate security measure.”

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How could Ryan connect with Zindashti, an international drug trafficker who carries out assassinations and kidnappings for the Iranian intelligence service?

Several of Ryan’s associates at BC had ties to Iran. Spencer said Ryan was close to Omid Tahvili, a gangster originally from Tehran who escaped from North Fraser remand prison in 2007 and has never been found.

Naji Zindashti
Naji Zindashti sun

And Ryan was routinely detained by the police along with the Askari brothers, Siavash and Sahand. Both fled British Columbia and are believed to be in their native Iran. Sahand is wanted here for the attempted murder of gangster Matin Pouyan on August 21, 2015.

It was Sahand’s co-accused in that shooting, Thomas Duong, whom Ryan was meeting in the Vancouver International Airport food court in April 2015 when a would-be killer arrived dressed in a burqa.

Knowah Ferguson pulled out a gun and pointed it at Ryan, but it jammed. The Hell’s Angel fled to save his life, as did Ferguson, who later pleaded guilty to attempted murder.

In 2021, police posted a poster, including a photo of Ryan, of the targets of the gang conflict to warn the public to stay away from them. Less than a year later, he was arrested.

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Spencer said he’s not surprised by Ryan’s criminal record.

“The first time we saw him wearing a (Hells Angels) patch, there was a fight at the Penthouse Cabaret downtown where all the kids used to go. And we looked at him and he had a patch and we thought, oh yeah, he made it.”

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