- The FBI foiled an alleged Iranian plot to kidnap Masih Alinejad – a human rights activist who lives in exile in the US.
- Her family was bribed to lure her into a third country and she was spied on for months, a federal indictment said.
- Speaking to Insider, Alinejad said she is “not scared” but now wants Biden to take a tougher line on Iran.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
Masih Alinejad, an exiled Iranian journalist and human rights activist in the US, was the target of an alleged kidnapping plot that could have been the plot of a Hollywood spy thriller.
Agents of the Iranian government bribed her family, spied on her Brooklyn property, and even looked into using high-speed, military-style speedboats to “evacuate” her to Venezuela, according to a 43-page federal indictment.
The plot, which was foiled by the FBI, was part of an alleged scheme by the Iranian government to lure Alinejad to a third country where she would be abducted and transported to Iran for imprisonment.
But despite these explosive findings, Alinejad told Insider: “I’m not scared.”
Alinejad said that she found out about the kidnapping plot against her when the FBI showed up at her home around eight months ago. “Since I am used to receiving death and kidnapping threats from the Islamic Republic of Iran, I initially didn’t take it seriously,” she told Insider.
It was only when the feds showed her a series of photos taken of her tending to her garden and chatting to her step-children that she became fearful. Private investigators, paid for by the Iranian regime, had spied on her for several months.
“I was stunned. I had goosebumps,” Alinejad said.
‘It broke my heart’
The human rights activist slowly learned about the extent of the Iranian plan, including her family in Iran being bribed to conspire against her. The indictment asserts that Iranian government officials offered money to her relatives in exchange for them luring her to Turkey.
“Given the Turkish government’s indifference to the plight of Iranians there, Iranian authorities felt that they could safely kidnap me from there,” Alinejad said. “But it was my brother who revealed this plot to me and I didn’t go to Turkey.”
As a consequence of his loyalty, she said her brother was arrested. “It broke my heart,” Alinejad added.
Her mother also remained fiercely loyal to her. Officials pressured her to go on State TV and denounce her daughter. “She threatened that she would kill herself if they insisted and they couldn’t get her to talk against me,” Alinejad explained.
Alinejad came to learn more about potential strategies Iran had considered to abduct her.
The indictment alleges that, at one point, an Iranian national agent had researched travel routes from her home to a waterfront part of Brooklyn. Another agent researched using speedboats to “evacuate” her to Venezuela -which has friendly relations with Iran.
Alinjead was informed by the FBI that she’d have to take shelter in a safe house. Once there, she said she expected to be out of harm’s way.
“It turned out that the plotters were following us, finding out about the location of the safe houses,” the activist said. She had to change safe houses three times.
‘I want American officials not to throw human rights under the bus’
On July 13, 2021, the US Department of Justice unsealed information about the conspiracy. Four Iranians were charged in federal court in Manhattan with conspiring to kidnap her, it was announced.
The indictment didn’t specifically mention Alinejad by name but, a day later, she confirmed on Twitter that she was the intended target.
Almost immediately, Alinejad began telling her 5.5 million Instagram followers and 270,000 Twitter followers about what had unfolded. She also started petitioning politicians to take the matter more seriously.
-Masih Alinejad ????️ (@AlinejadMasih) July 14, 2021
Alinejad spoke to Insider in between interviews with several high-profile lawmakers, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken, national security advisor Jake Sullivan, and Sen. Chuck Grassley.
And, recently, she has expressed frustration with President Joe Biden’s administration’s “tepid response.”
-Masih Alinejad ????️ (@AlinejadMasih) July 23, 2021
“I want American officials not to throw human rights under the bus,” Alinejad said. “They should not expect the Islamic Republic to be a normal government. It is not a normal government. Kidnapping and executions are in its DNA.”
Iran has denied the allegations as “ridiculous and baseless,” but Alinejad said that this is the “modus operandi” of the regime. “If their plot had succeeded, they would have proudly bragged about it,” she said.
Despite the traumatic ordeal, the human rights activist remains remarkably calm.
“I have given a voice to the voiceless in Iran, such as mourning mothers, women, ethnic minorities, LGBTQI+ people,” Alinejad said. “I could either choose to live miserably or make my oppressors miserable. I chose the latter.”