Four Iranian nationals are charged with plotting to kidnap a replacement York-based journalist, the US Department of Justice says.
The indictment didn’t name the target, but Masih Alinejad, an Iranian-born author, says it had been her.
The conspirators, described as intelligence officials, also allegedly plotted to lure an individual within the UK and three others in Canada to Iran.
All of the targets had been critical of Iran, says the Manhattan indictment.
Prosecutors said the Iranian government had sought to lure the New York-based journalist to a 3rd country where the kidnapping was planned.
The plotters even offered money to the writer’s relatives in Iran to betray the target, which they refused to try to do, the indictment contends.
The defendants are believed to be based in Iran, authorities said.
The plotters hired private investigators to spy on the target’s Brooklyn home and family and found out a high-definition live video feed of the property, consistent with the indictment.
The kidnap conspirators also researched a service offering military-style speedboats for evacuation from NY City, and maritime routes to Venezuela, an Iranian ally.
Ms. Alinejad, 44, runs My Stealthy Freedom, which campaigns against the mandatory wearing of the veil for Iranian women.
She told the NY Times that the plot showed the Iranian authorities were “scared” of her, “Otherwise, they might not send anyone here to kidnap me.”
US authorities said the abductors were aided by a fifth defendant, California resident Niloufar Bahadorifar, who was arrested on 1 July.
She hasn’t accused herself of participating directly within the plot but is charged with providing aid to the conspirators and violating sanctions against Iran.
Ms. Bahadorifar has pleaded acquitted and been released on bail, authorities said.
The Department of Justice also said the defendants are charged with fraud, concealment, and sanctions violations.
“As alleged, four of the defendants monitored and planned to kidnap a US citizen of Iranian origin who has been critical of the regime’s autocracy, and to forcibly take their intended victim to Iran,” said federal prosecutor Audrey Strauss for the Southern District of latest York.
William Sweeney, the top of latest York’s FBI office, said it sounded a touch like “some far-fetched movie plot”.
“We allege a gaggle, backed by the Iranian government, conspired to kidnap a US-based journalist here on our soil and forcibly return her to Iran,” he said. “Not on our watch.”