A California woman has pleaded guilty to a charge of conspiracy to violate U.S. economic sanctions on Iran in connection with her unwitting role in a foiled plot to kidnap an Iranian activist living in New York and take her back to Tehran.
Niloufar Bahadorifar is not accused of participating in the plot to abduct Masih Alinejad, a U.S.-Iranian outspoken critic of Iran’s clerical regime.
But U.S. authorities say four Iranians who plotted to kidnap Alinejad paid an American private investigator to watch her used Bahadorifar as a go-between.
Bahadorifar is accused of helping channel money to the investigator. She said in court in Manhattan on December 15 that she was unaware the funds were used to pay the investigator to conduct surveillance. Bahadorifar told the judge she had sent the money to the investigator via PayPal on behalf of a government official in Iran who was a longtime family friend.
Bahadorifar’s lawyer said after the hearing that she is herself a victim of a “cancerous” Iranian regime.
“When Iran’s terrorist leaders aren’t slaughtering their own people,” he said, “they’re traveling the globe trying to kill their critics, including the despicable manipulation of Ms. Bahadorifar by an old family friend,” Jeffrey Lichtman said.
Bahadorifar is set to be sentenced in April 2023.
An Iranian intelligence officer and others were charged in New York last year with attempting to kidnap Alinejad. Officials in Iran have rejected the accusations.
The private investigator, who has not been indicted, also was unaware his employers were Iranian agents.
Alinejad worked for years as a journalist in Iran before fleeing the country following the disputed 2009 presidential election and becoming a prominent figure on Farsi-language satellite channels abroad that criticize Iran.
U.S. authorities are investigating whether Alinejad was the target of a second plot after the first one was disrupted by the FBI last year.
In July, police arrested a man near her Brooklyn home with a loaded AK-47-style assault rifle and dozens of rounds of ammunition. The man, Khalid Mehdiyev, had been behaving suspiciously near the house for two days.
“I came here in America to be safe,” Alinejad said after the arrest. “First, they were trying to kidnap me. And now I see a man with a loaded gun trying to enter my house. I mean, it’s shocking.”
The Islamic Republic of Iran has unleashed a bloody crackdown on protesters who took to the streets in the middle of September after the death of a 22-year-old woman in the custody of morality police.