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The Journalist Iran Allegedly Sought To Kidnap Says She Would Have Been Killed

Masih Alinejad speaks onstage during a conference hosted by Women In Cable Television on Oct. 16, 2018, in New York City.
Larry Busacca
Getty Images
Masih Alinejad speaks onstage during a conference hosted by Women In Cable Television on Oct. 16, 2018, in New York City.

Updated July 15, 2021 at 12:05 PM ET

Iranian American journalist Masih Alinejad says she is the target of an alleged kidnapping plot that was foiled by the FBI and recently laid out in a federal indictment.

The indictment – which doesn't name Alinejad — says Iranian intelligence agents spied on her New York City home, tried to pay her family to lure her out of the country and even researched speedboats and maritime routes to slip her out.

Alinejad fled Iran in 2009 and now reports on Iranian human rights abuses.

"It's just obvious that they were going to execute me," Alinejad tells NPR's Morning Edition. "They announced that several times."

Alinejad also cites the example of another Iranian activist and journalist, Ruhollah Zam, who was lured out of exile in France in 2019 and executed a year later in Iran.

Iran has denied any wrongdoing in Alinejad's case.

Here are excerpts of the Morning Edition conversation, edited for length and clarity.

On how she learned she was the target of a kidnapping plot

I learned from FBI. They came to my house and they announced that I am under surveillance. It was quite shocking. You know, the reason many dissident journalists, activists, women, they leave Iran to be safe. So I came here in New York to feel safe because I wanted to do my job. I'm a journalist. I'm just an activist. I'm not a criminal. I'm giving voice to the voiceless people. Well, one day I see the FBI saying that the intelligence service hired a private investigator. They're taking photos of your private life. They're filming your movements and they want to see where you are. They're going to kidnap you from here. We're going to take care of you.

On what it was like during the eight months since the FBI first informed her about the plot

Oh my God, that was not easy because we had to go to different safe houses. I was away from my garden. My garden is like my family. I haven't visited my parents for 11 years. So I'm a village girl, but I had to stay away from my garden and stay away from my stepchildren. Some of my friends, they got really scared. My neighbors were really supportive. But the problem is they want to create fear. They want you to live in fear and paranoia. So I managed to defeat that. I became more determined. I became more powerful, actually, to give voice to the voiceless people because I said that I have only one life, and I don't want to die in fear and paranoia. That's it. And actually, I think that make them more furious and angry.

On what she thinks she did that made her a target

I strongly believe that the government in Iran is scared of the people who actually risk their lives and send videos to me. Those are women's rights activists — became the nightmare for Iran. Those women actually, practicing their civil disobedience, sending videos to me. I have like 5 million followers on Instagram, 1 million on Facebook and the videos of the morality police being beaten up, showing that gender apartheid regime, makes the government angry. But most important thing that I believe that the government now is scared of: the mothers of those people who got killed in Iran protests breaking their silence and sending videos to me. The government announced that that if anyone send videos to Masih will be charged up to 10 years prison.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
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