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One Iranian, Two Canadians Charged With Conspiracy in Murder-for-Hire Plot in US


FILE - Iran's national flag flies over Tehran, Iran, March 31, 2020.
FILE - Iran's national flag flies over Tehran, Iran, March 31, 2020.

One Iranian and two Canadian nationals were charged Monday with conspiracy to use interstate commerce in the commission of a murder-for-hire plot in the U.S.

According to court documents, from December 2020 through March 2021, Naji Sharifi Zindashti, 49, Damion Patrick John Ryan, 43, and Adam Richard Pearson, 29, conspired with each other in a plot to murder two residents of the state of Maryland.

The defendants, one of whom is based in Iran, used an encrypted messaging service called Sky ECC to recruit individuals to travel to the United States to carry out the killings, to discuss the identities and locations of the would-be victims, to plan logistics and mechanics of how to carry out the murders, and to negotiate payment for completion of the “job.”

The intended victims had previously fled to the United States after one of them defected from Iran.

The Treasury Department also initiated proceedings against what it said was Zindashti’s criminal network that targets Iranian dissidents and opposition activists for kidnapping and assassination organized by the Iranian regime.

In a stern warning, Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen of the Justice Department’s National Security Division said, “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 — and wherever you are — and deliver justice.”

The U.S. and Britain on Monday enacted sanctions to target what they called an Iranian transnational assassinations network, according to the U.S. Treasury Department.

Zindashti’s network, they said, has carried out numerous acts of transnational repression against dissidents, journalists, activists and former Iranian officials to silence the Iranian regime’s perceived critics. These acts have included assassinations, kidnappings and hacking operations across the Middle East, Europe and North America, they said. The Iranian government utilizes organized criminal groups to conceal its connection to the killings and kidnappings, they said.

“The Iranian regime’s continued efforts to target dissidents and activists demonstrate the regime’s deep insecurity and attempt to expand Iran’s domestic repression internationally,” said Brian E. Nelson, undersecretary of the treasury for terrorism and financial intelligence. “The United States, alongside our international allies and partners, including the United Kingdom, will continue to combat the Iranian regime’s transnational repression and will utilize all available tools to stop this threat, especially on U.S. soil.”

The U.S. Treasury's action is authorized under Executive Order 13553, which allows sanctions because of serious human rights abuses by the government of Iran, the Treasury Department's news release said. Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS), which is responsible for intelligence and counterintelligence and has conducted covert actions outside Iran, has been recognized as complicit in serious human rights abuses for its actions against the Iranian people since 2009, the statement said. The network has also been designated as a supporter for terrorist groups such as Hamas, Hezbollah and al-Qaida, it said.

Following Monday’s announcement, the sanctions will block and report all property and interests in property owned by individuals connected to MOIS currently in the United States or under the possession or control of U.S. persons to the Office of Foreign Assets Control.

The U.S. Treasury said its action was being taken in conjunction with the unsealing of an indictment by the Justice Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Some information for this report came from Reuters.

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