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Source: NY Times

Feb 21, 2024

Man Extradited to U.S. in Suspected Iranian Plot to Kill Activist

The man, a citizen of Georgia, and three others were charged with planning to assassinate Masih Alinejad, an American human rights activist in Brooklyn and a critic of Iran

By Benjamin Weiser and Adam Goldman

The Czech authorities handed over to the United States on Wednesday a man charged with participating in a plot hatched in Iran to assassinate Masih Alinejad, an American human rights activist and a journalist in Brooklyn and a sharp critic of Iran’s repression of women, American officials said.

The man, Polad Omarov, 39, was turned over to representatives of the U.S. government at Vaclav Havel Airport in Prague on Wednesday morning, Reuters reported, citing a statement from the Czech Justice Ministry. He was arrested in the Czech Republic in January 2023.

A federal indictment unsealed in New York last year said Mr. Omarov and three co-conspirators were part of an Eastern European criminal organization known by its members as Thieves-in-Law, which has ties to Iran and in 2022 was tasked with the killing of Ms. Alinejad.

Federal prosecutors in Manhattan have said that Mr. Omarov, a citizen of Georgia, held a leadership role in the organization and resided in Eastern Europe.

“This matter is going to be over today, brother,” Mr. Omarov said in a message to one of his co-conspirators in July 2022, shortly before another plotter, Khalid Mehdiyev, an Azerbaijani man living in Yonkers, N.Y., was found with a loaded AK-47-style assault rifle outside Ms. Alinejad’s house, the indictment charged. “I told them to make a birthday present for me,” Mr. Omarov wrote.

At the time, Mr. Mehdiyev, at the direction of Mr. Omarov and another man, Rafat Amirov, “was preparing imminently to execute the attack” on Ms. Alinejad, the indictment said.

Ms. Alinejad, in a message posted on X on Wednesday morning, thanked U.S. law enforcement agencies “for their vigilance.”

“I’m joyful first for having been given a second life and I rejoice in the humiliation of Islamic Republic,” Ms. Alinejad wrote, adding, “My adopted country has once again saved me from the murderous regime of my birth country Iran.”

Mr. Omarov, Mr. Amirov and Mr. Mehdiyev now all face trial in Federal District Court in Manhattan. Mr. Amirov and Mr. Mehdiyev have pleaded not guilty. A fourth man, Zialat Mamedov, has also been charged in the alleged plot; prosecutors said last May that he was in the custody of the Czech Republic.

“I look forward to testifying at their trial,” Ms. Alinejad wrote.

The director of the F.B.I., Christopher A. Wray, met Czech officials in Prague on Wednesday.

“With today’s extradition of Omarov, we have taken a significant step forward to hold Iranian actors accountable for their brazen plot to assassinate a U.S. citizen on American soil,” Mr. Wray said in a statement, thanking Czech officials.

The extradition of Mr. Omarov comes nearly three years after the F.B.I. and prosecutors in the Southern District of New York said they had taken down a plot to kidnap Ms. Alinejad and bring her to Iran for likely execution.

U.S. authorities announced charges against four Iranians in the alleged kidnapping plot, including one man described as an intelligence official and others described as intelligence assets; they remain fugitives, the government has said.

Benjamin Weiser is a reporter covering the Manhattan federal courts. He has long covered criminal justice, both as a beat and investigative reporter. Before joining The Times in 1997, he worked at The Washington Post. More about Benjamin Weiser

Adam Goldman writes about the F.B.I. and national security. He has been a journalist for more than two decades. More about Adam Goldman

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