An Iranian and two Canadians, including a member of the Hells Angels motorcycle gang, have been indicted for allegedly conspiring to assassinate Iranian dissidents on US soil, officials said Monday.
Naji Sharifi Zindashti, 49, Damion Patrick John Ryan, 43, and Adam Richard Pearson, 29, plotted to murder two residents of the state of Maryland, Justice and Treasury department officials said.
Zindashti, who is based in Iran, is a narcotics trafficker who runs a network that has carried out numerous "assassinations and kidnappings across multiple jurisdictions in an attempt to silence the Iranian regime's perceived critics," the Treasury Department said in a statement.
Zindashti was indicted by a grand jury in Minnesota along with Ryan and Pearson for allegedly plotting the murder-for-hire of two unidentified individuals who had fled to the United States from Iran.
Ryan, identified in the indictment as a "full-patch member of the outlaw Hells Angels Motorcycle Club," and Pearson are currently incarcerated in Canada on unrelated charges, the Justice Department said.
According to the indictment, Zindashti recruited Ryan to carry out the murders, for which he was to be paid $350,000 with another $20,000 for expenses.
Ryan allegedly hired Pearson to put together a team to carry out the murders.
"Zindashti and his team of gunmen, including a Minnesota resident, used an encrypted messaging service to orchestrate an assassination plot against two individuals," said US Attorney Andrew Luger for the District of Minnesota.
"Thanks to the skilled work of federal prosecutors and law enforcement agents, this murder-for-hire conspiracy was disrupted and the defendants will face justice," Luger added.
Zindashti allegedly communicated with Ryan between December 2020 and March 2021 through the SkyECC encrypted messaging service, according to the indictment.
An unidentified co-conspirator allegedly sent Ryan information about the intended victims, including their photographs and a map with their address.
- 'Unacceptable threat' -
The same day, the United States and Britain announced sanctions against Zindashti's network, which they alleged is run "at the behest of Iran's Ministry of Intelligence and Security."
"Zindashti's network has been linked to murders in several countries," including the United Arab Emirates, Canada and Turkey, the US Treasury Department said.
"The Iranian regime's continued efforts to target dissidents and activists demonstrate the regime's deep insecurity and attempt to expand Iran's domestic repression internationally," US Treasury Under Secretary for Terrorism Brian Nelson said.
The United Kingdom said in a separate notice that it would "sanction seven individuals and one organization, including senior Iranian officials and members of organized criminal gangs who collaborate with the regime."
They include members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Unit 840, over reported "plots to assassinate two television presenters from news channel Iran International on UK soil," said the British announcement.
"The Iranian regime and the criminal gangs who operate on its behalf pose an unacceptable threat to the UK's security," British Foreign Secretary David Cameron said in a statement. "The UK and US have sent a clear message -– we will not tolerate this threat."