Iran Plots to Kidnap Iranian-American Journalist from U.S. Soil | Opinion

The Southern District of New York, the acting assistant attorney general for national security and the assistant director of the N.Y. field office of the FBI unsealed an indictment for "kidnapping conspiracy, sanctions violations conspiracy, bank and wire fraud conspiracy, and money laundering conspiracy charges" against four Iranians, and similar charges against a woman in the United States. U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said, "As alleged, four of the defendants monitored and planned to kidnap a U.S. citizen of Iranian origin who has been critical of the regime's autocracy, and to forcibly take their intended victim to Iran, where the victim's fate would have been uncertain at best."

Although the indictments didn't publicly mention the name of the intended victim, she "outed" herself. Masih Alinejad is an Iranian-born U.S. citizen, a journalist and a vocal critic of the Iranian regime. She is an outspoken advocate of women's rights—including the right to remove the law-enforced hijab in Iran—as well as a presenter and producer at Voice of America Persian Service and contributor to numerous other media outlets. Much of the material she presents is video and audio from Iranian people desperate to find someone to spread their story in the West.

Dangerous to the regime? Absolutely.

CNN and Politico ran serious news stories about the kidnapping plot. They noted that, despite the fact that Iran has—for the first time—targeted American citizens in America for kidnapping, the indictment will not affect the Biden administration's interest in pursuing a return to the 2015 nuclear deal. The State Department told CNN that "The Biden Administration will continue to call out and stand up to Iran's human rights abuses and will support others who do so both here and in Iran."

"Call out" is such a sporting term; umps call out runners at first base and the game goes on.

The Politico story, equally straightforward, quoted an official who said, "The simple fact is that since the U.S. withdrew from the JCPOA, none of our problems with Iran have gotten better—including the kind of despicable plot the Department of Justice laid out.... Most of our problems with Iran have gotten worse, starting with the now unconstrained advances in their nuclear program."

In other words, our government's priority is the JCPOA—on which Iran has cheated from the beginning, to which Iran insists it will not return and on behalf of which the U.S. has waived numerous sanctions and lifted the terror designation from the Iranian-controlled Houthis in Yemen. Officials seem to believe that if we get agreement on the nuclear program, we will get agreement on everything else, including the security of American citizens who offend the regime.

Iranian flag
A boy waves an Iranian national flag as supporters of Iran's newly-elected president Ebrahim Raisi celebrate his victory in Imam Hussein square in the capital Tehran on June 19, 2021. ATTA KENARE / AFP/Getty Images

Really?

CNN's interview with Alinejad is a must-watch. That's both because of the interviewee's own accomplishments and because it's the sort of coverage CNN once was known for. The interviewer asked about the FBI and about the Biden administration. The FBI, Alinejad said, had done an outstanding job protecting her and her family. That's good news for a lot of reasons. The Biden administration, on the other hand, gave only lip service to human rights in Iran and offered no comfort to the people who are suffering and protesting, Alinejad said.

Alinejad is more than used to opposition, even in the U.S. Last year, congresswoman Ilhan Omar promoted an article from the Quincy Institute smearing the journalist. Alinejad's response was eye-popping. In a tweet thread, Alinejad detailed her prior requests that Omar help Iranians in trouble: her brother, arrested because of her work in the U.S.; four women arrested for protesting against compulsory hijab in Iran and sentenced to a total of 95 years in prison; and her 70-year-old mother, interrogated about Alinejad's activities by the Revolutionary Guards.

"When I divulge the repression of the Islamic Republic, attacks against me proliferate by the regime & their supporters in the West," Alinejad said. "I'd have never imagined that one day a member of Congress, a fellow woman of colour, would join with my oppressors in trying to defame me."

Frankly, it's not surprising to find Omar on the wrong side of freedom and liberty for women trapped behind the barriers erected by totalitarians abroad.

Bravo to the FBI and the U.S. courts for doing the job they were designed to do—protecting the citizens of the United States and their right to freedom of speech. This has serious implications for us all.

And bravo to Masih Alinejad for being the sort of American who uses that right to help others.

Shoshana Bryen is senior director of the Jewish Policy Center and editor of inFOCUS Quarterly.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.