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U.S. Prosecutors Say They've Charged 4 Iranians With Plotting To Kidnap A Journalist

SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

The U.S. Department of Justice says it has indicted four Iranian intelligence officials for planning to lure a U.S. journalist from New York to another country with the ultimate goal of kidnapping her. The indictment came out yesterday. Prosecutors say the four defendants are in Iran and are at large. The alleged target of the plot is an Iranian American author, activist and journalist. NPR's Jackie Northam joins us now with details. And, Jackie, tell us more about what's in this indictment.

JACKIE NORTHAM, BYLINE: Well, you read this - through this 43-page indictment. And it sounds like something you could make a good Hollywood movie out of. It says that Iranian intelligence agents tried to lure an Iranian American activist to a third country where they would kidnap her and whisk her back to Iran. Now, the indictment doesn't name the victim. But Masih Alinejad, who is a U.S. citizen, confirms that she was the target. The indictment says Iran pressured Alinejad's relatives and offered to pay them to get her to travel to another country, where intelligence agents would then pick her up. The relatives refused. The indictment says that one of the intelligence agents researched travel routes from Alinejad's home to a waterfront neighborhood in Brooklyn, where she lives, while another agent researched a service offering military-style speed boats. And it gives the impression they were considering grabbing Alinejad and getting her out of New York by boat. The indictment says some of these efforts started as early as 2018 and continued early into this year.

PFEIFFER: Do you know much more yet about this woman and what she might have done that made them a target for - made her a target for them?

NORTHAM: Right. Well, Masih Alinejad is a U.S. citizen. She's a dual citizen. And she used to be a journalist in Iran. But she fled the country in 2009 after a government crackdown there. She works here on a Persian show for The Voice of America. And she's still involved with women's rights issues in Iran, which, of course, has caught the attention of the regime in Tehran. And Alinejad is very active on social media. In fact, she posted a video last night when this news broke. Let's have a listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MASIH ALINEJAD: (Non-English language spoken).

NORTHAM: Sacha, you can see in the video that police are outside of Alinejad's home. And she says it makes her feel safe that they're there to protect her. On another video yesterday, Alinejad said she was used to getting death threats and threats that someone would, you know, throw acid in her face. The indictment says the Iranian intelligence were having Alinejad surveilled, even hired a private investigator to get information on her. And, you know, NPR did attempt to reach out to the Iranian mission at the U.N. for comment. But so far, we've not received a reply.

PFEIFFER: Jackie, could you put this in context for us in terms of what's going on between the U.S. and Iran now?

NORTHAM: Right. Well, this is happening at a very sensitive time in U.S.-Iran relations. Negotiators on both sides are working through mediators to try and resurrect the 2015 nuclear deal. Also, Iran is holding four dual citizens right now, Iranian Americans. And officials there have been talking about prisoner swaps. You know, and those have happened in the past. It's hard to say now how this indictment might affect those talks.

PFEIFFER: That's NPR's Jackie Northam. Thank you for those details.

NORTHAM: Thanks very much, Sacha. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.