Iran foreign ministry: Iran kidnap plot is ‘imaginary story’

Deepti Hajela and Larry Neumeister
Associated Press

New York — An Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson said Wednesday that accusations by U.S. authorities that Iran is plotting to kidnap Iranians abroad who criticize the country are “baseless and ridiculous.”

The spokesperson, Saeed Khatibzadeh, was quoted by Iran’s semiofficial ISNA news agency a day after U.S. federal authorities in New York announced criminal charges against four Iranian intelligence operatives.

The authorities, quoting from an indictment, say the individuals plotted to kidnap a prominent Iranian opposition activist and writer in exile from her Brooklyn residence and take her to Tehran.

Khatibzadeh derided the plot as “Hollywood-style scenarios” and “baseless and ridiculous” accusations unworthy of a response.

“Making such an imaginary story is not unlikely by the U.S. Its entire short history is full of assassination, kidnapping and sabotage in other countries,” Khatibzadeh said.

Masih Alinejad speaks during the 10th Anniversary Women In The World Summit on April 12, 2019 in New York City.

Later Wednesday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki told a briefing that Iran’s “actions to attempt to silence the voices of those peacefully working to address the situation both inside of Iran and outside of Iran are appalling.”

“We categorically condemn Iran’s dangerous and despicable reported plot to kidnap a U.S. citizen on U.S. soil,” she said.

She said law enforcement actions like those announced Tuesday were part of a strategy to defend U.S. citizens and interests that includes actions taken to defend U.S. forces from Iranian-backed militant groups and diplomatic efforts to constrain Iran’s nuclear program.

The indictment in Manhattan federal court described the plot as part of a wider plan to lure three individuals in Canada and a fifth person in the United Kingdom, along with individuals in the United Arab Emirates, to Iran.

The identities of the alleged victims were not released but Brooklyn-based Masih Alinejad confirmed that authorities had told her she was among the targets.

“I knew that this is the nature of the Islamic Republic, you know, kidnapping people, arresting people, torturing people, killing people. But I couldn’t believe it that this is going to happen to me in United States of America,” Alinejad told The Associated Press.

Alinejad, who worked for years as a journalist in Iran, long has been targeted by its theocracy after fleeing the country following its disputed 2009 presidential election and crackdown.

She is a prominent figure on Farsi-language satellite channels abroad that critically view Iran and has worked as a contractor for U.S.-funded Voice of America’s Farsi-language network since 2015. She became a U.S. citizen in October 2019.

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Associated Press writer Nasser Karimi in Tehran, Iran, contributed to this report.