Iranians charged with spying on Jews in U.S. raise specter of assassination plots here
The Justice Department has brought charges against two Iranians for spying on Jewish and opposition groups in the U.S. in 2017-18.
Court documents raise the possibility that Tehran’s hard-line Islamic regime is hunting for bombing and assassination targets, which would represent a huge escalation in hostility toward the West. Iran has targeted foes in Europe for eradication.
Ahmadreza Doostdar and Majid Ghorbani were indicted on charges of being illegal agents of a foreign power Iran.
On a wiretap, Mr. Ghorbani, a California resident, is heard singling out an opposing figure for assassination. “M.....F needs one, one shot,” he said. He is scheduled for a detention hearing on Tuesday.
The charges come as President Trump has embarked on a get-tough policy toward Iran, whom the U.S. deems the No. 1 state sponsor of terrorism. Mr. Trump pulled out of the Obama-era nuclear deal and is urging allies to re-apply economic sanctions.
European police broke up an alleged Iranian plot to ignite a bomb at an MEK rally outside Paris this summer.
Documents show how easily Iranian saboteurs can move in and out of the U.S.
The two men specifically targeted Jewish centers in Chicago as well as a 2017 anti-regime opposition rally in New York and a 2018 convention in Washington.
The New York protest was organized by Mojahedin-e Khalq. MEK is the main component of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, the largest opposing group calling for the overthrow of ruling mullahs. Iran has been the scene of anti-regime street protests for months.
“The government of Iran considered the MEK to be a primary opponent of the current regime and has sought to eradicate the MEK,” said an FBI affidavit.
The affidavit said the Iranians created a “target package” that “could enable a neutralization plan, which may include apprehension, recruitment, cyber exploitation, or capture/kill operations.”
The dual-citizen Doostdar was born in Long Beach, Calif., but has spent most of his life in Canada and then Iran.
Mr. Ghorbani was raised in Iran. In 2015, he became a U.S. legal permanent resident and lives in Costa Mesa, Calif.
An FBI search of Mr. Doostdar’s electronic devices showed he canvassed a number of targets. In July 2017, he traveled from Tehran to Chicago.
The FBI placed him under physical surveillance and followed him to the Oriental Institute Museum at the University of Chicago.
“Doostdar moved through the museum in an unusual fashion and was alone in a small room with an unidentified female for a short time,” the affidavit said.
He then left the museum, walked a few blocks and began photographing several Jewish centers, such as the Hillel Center and Rohr Chabad Center.
Later, he traveled to Costa Mesa and met up with Mr. Ghorbani for the first time.
“Doostdar employed intelligence tradecraft and ran surveillance detection routes before, during and after his meetings with Ghorbani,” the FBI said.
It was Mr. Ghorbani who surveilled MEK at a New York rally and photographed individual anti-regime protesters.
Mr. Doostdar entered the U.S. again in December 2017. Immigration officials discovered $6,000 in cash, which he claimed was money to repay a brother. He denied meeting with anyone on his previous U.S. visit.
He traveled again to Costa Mesa. A wiretap captured a phone call to Mr. Ghorbani during which Mr. Doostdar identified himself as “Uncle Sohrab.”
The FBI listened to their car ride as Mr. Ghorbani delivered a briefing on his New York trip.
“I took some pictures and collected some information of them and some senators that they worked with,” he said.
Mr. Doostdar instructed him on how to mix his photos with family pictures in a flash drive so as to not arouse suspicions of customs agents at airports. “I notice they don’t search these at all, I put it right in front of them. They didn’t even open it,” he said.
He said he would take the photos back to Iran.
“I will give it to the guys to do their research,” he said.
When Mr. Doostdar left the U.S. in December 2017, authorities inspected his checked luggage and found the rally photographs. The FBI affidavit said he ultimately provided the drive to the Iranian government.
Mr. Ghorbani left the U.S for Iran in March and returned a month later. A luggage search showed he had instructions on future MEK spying.
By then, Mr. Ghorbani had infiltrated MEK associates as a supposed ally. He was invited to attend a convention in Washington in May. FBI surveillance showed Mr. Ghorbani constantly taking photographs of attendees.
Mr. Doostdar returned to the U.S. in July, this time with $16,000 in cash.
Said Ali Safavi, an opposition official based in Washington, “The policy of appeasement has so emboldened the clerical regime that it has directly targeted the US soil with its Iranian agents, something unprecedented in the past 40 years. For this reason, all of Tehran’s known and undercover agents and mercenaries who pursue the regime’s plots in the US must be identified and prosecuted.”
Mr. Safavi attended the New York rally. His name is mentioned by Mr. Ghorbani as an assassination target.
Said Assistant Attorney General John Demers, “Doostdar and Ghorbani are alleged to have acted on behalf of Iran, including by conducting surveillance of political opponents and engaging in other activities that could put Americans at risk. With their arrest and these charges, we are seeking to hold the defendants accountable.”