Iranian and two Canadians charged in alleged plot to assassinate Iran defector on US soil

WASHINGTON (AP) — An Iranian man who federal prosecutors say operates a criminal network targeting dissidents and activists abroad has been charged along with a pair of Canadians with conspiring to kill two people, including an Iran defector. , who had fled to the United States. .

The criminal case revealed Monday is part of what Justice Department officials have described as a troubling trend of transnational repression, in which agents from countries like Iran and China target dissidents and defectors for campaigns of harassment, intimidation and, sometimes violence.

In this case, prosecutors say, Naji Sharifi Zindashti conspired with two Canadian men between December 2020 and March 2021 to kill two Maryland residents. The intended victims of the murder-for-hire plot were not identified in an indictment, but prosecutors described them as having fled to the United States after one of them defected from Iran.

The plot was ultimately foiled, the Justice Department said.

“To those in Iran who plan assassinations on American soil and the criminal actors who work with them, may today’s charges send a clear message: the Department of Justice will pursue them for as long as necessary, and wherever they are, and will deliver justice,” Deputy Attorney General Matthew Olsen, the Justice Department’s top national security official, said in a statement.

The Justice Department previously charged three men, in a plot they say originated in Iran, to kill an Iranian American author and activist who has spoken out against human rights abuses there, and also filed charges in connection to a failed plot to assassinate John Bolton. , former national security advisor in the Trump administration.

The latest case comes at a time of simmering tension between the United States and Iran, even after a weekend drone strike in northeastern Jordan, near the border with Syria, that killed three American soldiers and which the Biden administration attributed to Iranian-backed militias. On Monday, two U.S. officials told The Associated Press that the enemy drone may have been mistaken for a U.S. drone returning to the U.S. facility.

Zindashti is believed to still live in Iran. U.S. officials described him as a drug trafficker who, at the behest of Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security, operates a criminal network that has orchestrated assassinations, kidnappings and other acts of transnational repression against alleged critics of the Iranian regime, including in the United States.

In a separate but related action, the Treasury Department on Monday announced sanctions against Zindashti that will prohibit him and his associates from transacting business in the United States or with a U.S. person.

He is alleged to have coordinated his efforts with Damion Patrick John Ryan and Adam Richard Pearson, using an encrypted messaging service to recruit potential assassins to travel to the United States and carry out the murders.

Prosecutors say Ryan and Pearson are currently imprisoned in Canada on unrelated charges.

Court records do not identify attorneys for any of the three men, who are charged in federal court in Minnesota (one of the defendants was living there “illegally” under a false name while the plot unfolded) with conspiracy. to use interstate commerce. facilities in the commission of murder for hire.

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