When I first got a whiff a while back of the plot, I thought, no way: Even the Iranian regime wouldn’t undermine the nuclear talks in Vienna by kidnapping a journalist as distinguished as Masih Alinejad. Then another thought nagged me: What if the Biden administration, eager to cut a deal with Tehran, would prevent the Feds from indicting, and airing the case in public.
Turns out I was wrong — up to a point — on both counts.
All I knew earlier was that FBI agents had shown Ms. Alinejad high-resolution photographs and videos that were taken by someone that might have worked for, or with, the Iranian camarilla. The G-men told her she was in danger. She and her husband, the journalist Kambiz Foroohar, were hustled to safe houses for their protection and told to cancel all planned international travel. Later, when they returned home to Brooklyn, an NYPD squad car was stationed constantly in front of their house.
On Tuesday night the Justice Department unsealed an indictment against five Iranian agents. Although FBI Assistant Director William F. Sweeney, Jr., was quoted in the indictment as saying “this is not some far fetched movie plot,” it sure sounded like one.
The pictures and videos I heard of included depictions of Ms. Alinejad and Mr. Foroohar, their daily routines, their Brooklyn home, the garden in front of it — the works. They were shot by an apparently unsuspecting American detective, hired by Iranian agents. They’s said he’d aid an investigation into an uncollected debt from someone who escaped to Dubai.
Other details were even more ominous. One of the conspirators researched military-type speed boats to learn which, after an abduction of Ms. Alinejad, could transport her by sea from the Brooklyn waterfront to Venezuela, where she’d be speedily transferred to Iran. Similar abductions of dissidents, including one from France, have ended up in death.
The Iranian regime has attempted to kidnap Ms. Alinejad before. In her autobiographical book, “The Wind In My Hair,” the Iranian-born Brooklynite details how she canceled a trip to Turkey, where she was told she could meet family members. Just in time she realized the plan was merely a setup by Iran to abduct her.
When Ms. Alinejad first learned of the new plot eight months ago, she was really scared, she told Voice of America’s Farsi Service, where she has a radio show.
Then she concluded that the mullahs are now more scared of her than she is of them. That is because her simple but powerful message, combined with an engaging personality and unparalleled on-air charisma, are so subversive to a rigid regime like Iran’s. It means that she really does threaten its hold on power.
I witnessed Ms. Alinejad’s ability to engage audiences and rouse feelings a while back, in one of our first meetings. She constantly fiddled with her iPhone, posting endless messages and videos to her millions of followers on Telegram, Facebook, and other social media — all without missing a beat on our conversation.
At one point she even managed to get a whole flock of Long Island wild turkeys to answer her bird call loudly, and approvingly. (I suggested she should enter, and win, Kentucky’s annual turkey calling contest.)
While the entire world was busy arguing about resolving Tehran’s nuclear threat, Ms. Alinejad, a journalist who escaped Iran after calling out regime officials, developed a much simpler message: Why should any woman hide a beautiful shock of hair like hers under a hijab, as the Iranian law dictates.
That query became a powerful symbol of the clerical regime’s oppression of women (and also of men). Her followers regularly post selfies as they remove mandatory hair coverings in public squares or defy the ban on women entering sports stadiums. Many of the women get arrested but, inspired by Ms. Alinejad, they remain defiant.
Ms. Alinejad says the kidnapping plot will not deter her from fighting for human rights in Iran. Will America now back her? President Biden vowed to place human rights on top of his foreign policy. Ms. Alinejad’s campaign, however, got no recognition from the administration.
Unlike Secretary of State Pompeo, who warmly and publicly hosted her at the State Department in 2019, Secretary Blinken has yet to meet or acknowledge her feminist message. On Tuesday night the State Department issued a bland statement, generically calling on the Iranian regime to respect human rights and freedom of expression, adding that the kidnapping plot “is a law enforcement matter and we refer you to the Department of Justice for any further inquiries.”
Really? As the FBI’s Mr. Sweeney said in the indictment, “We allege a group, backed by the Iranian government, conspired to kidnap a U.S. based journalist here on our soil and forcibly return her to Iran.” What part of “backed by the Iranian government” is no “matter” for our top diplomats? At least Washington could now demand the release of Alireza Alinejad, who was arrested, convicted in a show trial and sentenced to eight years in Iranian dungeons for the “crime” of being Masih Alinejad’s brother.
To add insult to injury, the administration announced, on the day Justice unsealed the indictment, the removal of Iranian oil executives from a list of sanctioned regime officials. It was almost as if Washington rewarded Tehran for a failed plot to seize an American woman on our own soil.
Sure enough, administration officials are making clear to reporters who ask about the indictment fallout that they remain eager to renew a nuclear deal that, if nothing else, fail to end the ayatollah’s nuclear ambitions while making Tehran’s oppressors flush with cash and assuring their survival in power.