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Federal prosecutors announce charges in murder-for-hire plot against Iranian dissidents

The leader of an Iranian criminal network that targets dissidents, along with two Canadian nationals, including a member of the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club, have been charged with plotting to murder two people who fled Iran and lived in Maryland, federal prosecutors announced Monday.

The three men named in the criminal indictment – Naji Sharifi Zindashti, Damion Patrick John Ryan and Adam Richard Pearson – allegedly worked together through an encrypted app, with some of them planning to travel into the United States to carry out the killings. Justice Department prosecutors say the victims, who are not named in the indictment, fled to the US after one of them defected from Iran.

The defendants are each charged with conspiracy related to the murder-for-hire plot, and Pearson is also charged with one count of possession of a firearm by a fugitive from justice and one count of possession of a firearm by a person unlawfully in the United States.

The Treasury Department also announced actions against Zindashti’s criminal network, which it said “targets Iranian dissidents and opposition activists for kidnapping and assassination at the direction of the Iranian regime.” The department’s actions prohibit Zindashti and several of his key associates from engaging in any transaction or dealing that involves a US person or occurs in the United States, the agency said in a news release.

According to court documents, Zindashti and an unnamed co-conspirator orchestrated the plot from Iran. The co-conspirator allegedly hired Ryan, a resident of Canada and member of the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club, to assemble a team of gunmen and travel to Maryland to commit the murders.

In January 2021, Zindashti and Ryan allegedly discussed a “job” in the United States on an encrypted messaging app. That same day, prosecutors allege that Ryan messaged Pearson, who was living in Minnesota illegally under an assumed name, about a “job” in Maryland.

Ryan and Pearson allegedly discussed pricing for the murder and exchanged messages about how the job needed “to be overkill.” Pearson said he would encourage the gunmen to “shoot [the victim] in the head a lot [to] make example,” prosecutors said, and that he would tell them “we gotta erase his head from his torso.”

Ryan also exchanged messages with the unnamed co-conspirator in Iran about the identities and locations of the two victims, logistics of how to carry out the murders, and negotiating payment, prosecutors 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,” Matthew Olsen, the assistant attorney general of the Justice Department’s National Security Division, said in a statement Monday.

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