Jan 29, 2024 - World

DOJ charges Iranian and 2 Canadians in murder-for-hire plot

The FBI's seal in Washington, D.C., in July 2023.

Photo: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

The U.S. Department of Justice charged an Iranian narcotics trafficker and two Canadian nationals on Monday in a murder-for-hire plot against two people in Maryland.

Why it matters: The Justice Department said the intended victims of the plot had previously fled to the U.S. after one of them defected from Iran.

Driving the news: Federal prosecutors accused Iranian Naji Sharifi Zindashti, 49, and Canadians Damion Ryan, 43, and Adam Pearson, 29, of conspiracy to use interstate commerce in the commission of a murder-for-hire plot.

  • Those convicted can face up to ten years in prison, per the DOJ.
  • The indictment, released Monday, alleges the three men organized the disrupted plot between December 2020 through March 2021, communicating through SkyECC, an end-to-end encrypted messaging app.
  • Pearson, in response to a message from Ryan saying he was looking for "overkill," said he would tell his recruits to "shoot [the victim] in the head a lot [to] make [an] example" and that they had to "erase his head from his torso," the indictment says.

By the numbers: Zindashti and Ryan agreed to a $350,000 payment for the murders, as well as a $20,000 to cover expenses, prosecutors said.

  • The $20,000 was sent to Ryan in early March by an unidentified co-conspirator, who also provided pictures and background information on the two would-be victims, who the DOJ did not identify.
  • The payment to cover expenses was made after Ryan told the co-conspirator: "We have a 4 man team ready."

What they're saying: The charges are a warning to "those in Iran who plot murders on U.S. soil and the criminal actors who work with them," Matthew Olsen, assistant attorney general for national security, said in a press release Monday.

The big picture: Ryan is a "full-patch member" of the Hells Angels motorcycle group, per the indictment. He has a history of firearms and international drug trafficking charges, the Department of Treasury said Monday in announcing sanctions against Zindashti and his associates.

  • Though the DOJ did not specify whether officials with the Iranian government were involved in the plot, the Treasury Department noted that the narcotics network led by Zindashti "operates at the behest of Iran's Ministry of Intelligence and Security."
  • "Zindashti's network has carried out numerous acts of transnational repression including assassinations and kidnappings across multiple jurisdictions in an attempt to silence the Iranian regime's perceived critics," it said.

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