Iran Has Been Honey-Trapping American Journalists

(Photo by ATTA KENARE/AFP via Getty Images)

Dylan Housman Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent
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The Islamic Republic of Iran has reportedly been targeting American journalists more aggressively than previously known by the public.

At least two additional cases of attemped kidnapping or surveillance against American reporters were carried out by the Iranian regime in 2019 and 2020 than had been reported previously, according to the Washington Free Beacon. The report follows a July indictment of four Iranians by the Department of Justice for a plot to kidnap Masih Alinejad, a U.S. citizen born in Iran who advocates for human rights and criticizes the ruling regime in her home country.

A late 2019 plot involved plans to lure a male Voice of America (VOA) journalist to a hotel room in Iraq where he could be taken captive by Iranian operatives, according to the Free Beacon. In 2020, Alinejad and one other VOA reporter were targeted in New York City by Iranian surveillance.

VOA was dismissive of warnings from both the FBI and State Department, a former senior State Department official reportedly told the Free Beacon. The four Iranian operatives who were indicted allegedly hired private investigators in New York to track Alinejad, claiming she was a missing person from Dubai. (RELATED: US Mulls Additional Sanctions On Iran As Nuclear Deal Negotiations Stall: REPORT)

The plots closely resemble the Iranian operation that resulted in the murder of Ruhollah Zam, an Iranian journalist and activist who was executed by the Islamic Republic in December. Zam had been living in Paris under the protection of the French government but was reportedly lured to a hotel in Iraq in Oct. 2019, where he was apprehended by Iranian agents. Zam was a fierce critic of the regime and was accused of being a key instigator of widespread protests in Iran in 2018.

President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken have condemned the attempted kidnapping of Alinejad. Opponents of the Iranian regime say they aren’t going far enough, though.

“The president has a choice to make. He can show that while his administration values diplomacy, it values the lives of Americans more,” wrote former Iranian political prisoner Navid Mohebbi in The Wall Street Journal. “Or he can shirk his most basic responsibility to keep American citizens safe and let dictators’ sovereignty extend into places like Brooklyn.” (RELATED: Out Goes Biden, In Comes Iran: US Adversaries Swarm To Fill Vacuum Created By Afghanistan Withdrawal)

Alinejad herself said she was “disappointed” by the administration’s response. “So they were going to execute me. Now I’m an American citizen as well. So I want the U.S. administration, I want Biden administration to condemn that strongly, to take action. Because if they don’t do that, then the U.S. citizens won’t be safe,” Alinejad told Fox News. “This is not about me. This is the Islamic Republic trying to threaten American citizens. I think that was not enough. I was disappointed and looking for a strong action.”

Some of those critics of Biden’s response have argued that the administration is prioritizing a return to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), also known as the Iran nuclear deal, over other issues with the regime.

Blinken has gone out of his way to avoid criticism of Iran on certain issues, such as funding Hamas, during his time leading the State Department. In a tweet about Alinejad, Blinken failed to call out the Iranian regime by name.

A State Department spokesperson would not comment on specific allegations but condemned the plots more broadly and defended the administration’s focus on the JCPOA in an email to the Daily Caller: “We categorically condemn Iran’s dangerous and despicable alleged plot to kidnap a U.S. citizen on U.S. soil. This Administration will forcefully defend U.S. citizens and U.S. interests.”

“Every single challenge and threat we face from Iran is made more pronounced and dangerous by an unconstrained nuclear program. Put another way, constraining Iran’s nuclear program by returning to the JCPOA will put us in a better position to address these other problems,” the spokesperson continued. “Since the U.S. withdrew from the JCPOA, none of our problems with Iran have gotten better. Most of our problems with Iran have gotten worse, starting with the now unconstrained advances in their nuclear program.”