Home U.S. News U.S. Charges Iranian Man and Two Canadians in Plot to Kill Refugees

U.S. Charges Iranian Man and Two Canadians in Plot to Kill Refugees

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U.S. Charges Iranian Man and Two Canadians in Plot to Kill Refugees

An Iranian man accused of being the kingpin of a network that targets dissidents has been charged with hiring two Canadians, including a member of the Hells Angels, to kill two Iranian refugees living in Maryland, according to indictments unsealed on Monday.

The man, Naji Sharifi Zindashti, 49, is accused of being a drug trafficker and assassin in Iran. In December, a federal grand jury in Minnesota charged him with orchestrating a plot to murder an unidentified Iranian defector and another person in late 2020 and early 2021 using an encrypted messaging app to recruit killers.

Mr. Zindashti connected with Damion Ryan, 43, who, in turn, enlisted Adam R. Pearson, 29, according to court documents. Prosecutors identified Mr. Pearson as a “full-patch member of the outlaw Hells Angels Motorcycle Club” who was living illegally in Minnesota.

Both men are serving time in Canadian prisons on unrelated charges. In one chilling exchange described in one of the indictments, Mr. Pearson signaled his intention to shoot one of his targets in the head to send a message on behalf of his Iranian handler.

“We gotta erase his head from his torso,” Mr. Pearson said in an intercepted communication on the encrypted platform Sky ECC.

For reasons that are unclear, the hits were never carried out.

The men — who claimed to have organized a four-man team, including a driver — agreed to a $350,000 payment in January 2021. Mr. Zindashti, identified by the Treasury Department as a drug trafficker working at the behest of the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security, sent them photographs of the targets, a man and a woman, along with maps.

He appears to have paid them only $20,000 for travel expenses, the prosecutors said.

The charges stem from a yearslong investigation by the F.B.I., the Justice Department and Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

Law enforcement officials said the investigation was continuing and did not rule out the possibility that others could be charged.

“To those in Iran who plot murders on U.S. soil and the criminal actors who work with them, let today’s charges send a clear message: The Department of Justice will pursue you as long as it takes,” Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen of the department’s national security division said in a statement.

It is not the first time a member of the Hells Angels has been connected to Iran. In 2023, a court in Düsseldorf, Germany, convicted a man of trying to burn down a synagogue after a member of the gang who had been working with officials in Tehran asked him to do so, according to German prosecutors.

The unsealing of the indictment comes at a time of heightened tensions between the United States and Iran, one day after the deaths of three American service members in an attack by an Iran-backed militia at a base in Jordan. President Biden has vowed to retaliate.

The Justice Department has warned that several foreign powers, including Iran, Russia and China, have become increasingly brazen in their attacks on dissidents and refugees living in the United States.

In July, federal prosecutors in Brooklyn charged three men in a plot hatched in Iran to assassinate Masih Alinejad, an American human-rights activist who has criticized the country’s repression of women.

In November, a federal grand jury in New York indicted an Indian man in a plot to murder a Sikh dissident living in New York. Prosecutors said Nikhil Gupta, 52, worked with an unidentified Indian government official to recruit a hit man, according to the charges. Mr. Gupta was captured in Prague and is being extradited to the United States by the Czech authorities.

The three defendants accused of working for Iran are all charged with one count of conspiracy to commit two murders for hire. Mr. Pearson is also charged with one count of possession of a firearm by a fugitive from justice and one count of possession of a firearm by an alien unlawfully in the United States.

After the indictment was made public, the Treasury Department and British officials announced they were imposing sanctions against Mr. Zindashti and associates who have “carried out numerous acts of transnational repression including assassinations and kidnappings.”

Treasury officials said Mr. Zindashti was behind the 2020 kidnapping of a dissident who was smuggled back into Iran, subjected to a summary trial and executed. They also accused Mr. Zindashti and his men of assassinating a former Iranian cybersecurity official in 2019 who had denounced the country’s leadership. They also said Mr. Zindashti was responsible for the murder in 2017 of Saeed Karimian, the owner of Gem TV, a network of television channels that was critical of Tehran.

It was not immediately clear who is representing Mr. Ryan or Mr. Pearson in the case.

Iran’s representative to the United Nations did not immediately return a request for comment.

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