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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The FBI charged eight people on Wednesday for acting as Chinese agents and said the defendants — five of whom were arrested — stalked and harassed U.S. citizens in an attempt to get them to return to China.

Why it matters: These are the first charges of their kind, FBI director Christopher Wray said at a Wednesday press briefing. The charges include conspiring to violate law on interstate stalking on behalf of the People's Republic of China (PRC).

Driving the news: The FBI arrested five defendants on Wednesday morning — one individual in New Jersey, two in New York, and two others in California, acting U.S. Attorney Seth DuCharme told reporters at a press briefing. He said in a press release that "those charged in China" should "stay out" of the U.S.

Catch up quick: Defendants Zhu Feng, Hu Ji, Li Minjun, Hongru Jin, Zhu Yong, and Michael McMahon, working with PRC officials, allegedly tried to coerce an unnamed New Jersey resident to return to China beginning in April 2017, the DOJ said.

  • Three defendants — Zhu Feng, Hu Ji, and Li Minjun — remain at large, the agency said.
  • Zheng Congying and an unidentified co-conspirator allegedly left a note on the New Jersey resident's door in September 2018 that read: “If you are willing to go back to mainland and spend 10 years in prison, your wife and children will be all right. That’s the end of this matter!” 
  • Unsolicited packages that threatened the resident's family were sent to his home from February to April last year, the agency said.

The big picture: Officials at the press briefing said the New Jersey resident being targeted was "far from an isolated incident," when a reporter asked for an exact number on how many people had been targeted.

  • Some of the alleged victims were "dissidents, critics, rivals of the Chinese General Secretary," John Demers, assistant attorney general for national security, said, while others had been "legitimately sought for criminal activity, although in an illegitimate way," by China.

What they're saying: "Our concern isn't with the Chinese people or with Chinese Americans. Our concern is with criminal acts committed at the behest of the Chinese government and the Chinese Communist Party," Wray stressed.

Go deeper

U.S.-based Chinese activists targeted by Guo Wengui supporters

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

In the weeks before the U.S. presidential election, three prominent Chinese activists in the U.S. found their homes surrounded by anonymous protesters who accused them of spying for the Chinese Communist Party.

Why it matters: The three activists, who had fled China due to repression from Chinese authorities, now face physical threats on U.S. soil.

5 mins ago - World

Israeli parliament opts for early elections in preliminary vote

Netanyahu (C) arrives in parliament today. Photo: Alex Kolomiensky/Pool/AFP via Getty

After six months of a dysfunctional power-sharing government, Israel is headed for its fourth elections in less than two years, most likely at the end of March.

Driving the news: The Knesset voted 61-54 today to approve the preliminary reading of a bill to dissolve the parliament and call new elections. Benny Gantz's Blue and White party supported the bill while Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud and the rest of the coalition voted against.

1 hour ago - Sports

The end of COVID’s grip on sports may be in sight

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Packed stadiums and a more normal fan experience could return by late 2021, NIAID director Anthony Fauci said yesterday.

Why it matters: If Fauci's prediction comes true, it could save countless programs from going extinct next year.