Canadians and Iranian charged with murder-for-hire plot on U.S. soil

Two Canadians and an Iranian man have been charged in a murder-for-hire plot targeting two Maryland residents, one of them an Iranian defector, the U.S. Department of Justice stated in an indictment unsealed Monday.

Naji Sharifi Zindashti, 49, Damion Patrick John Ryan, 43, and Adam Richard Pearson, 29, were each charged with conspiracy to use interstate commerce in the alleged murder-for-hire plot.

Pearson was also charged with one count of possession of a firearm by a fugitive from justice and one count of possession of a firearm by an alien unlawfully in the United States, the DOJ said, since he had been living illegally in Minnesota under an alias. The two other suspects were already jailed in Canada on unrelated charges.

From December 2020 through March 2021, the Canadian nationals allegedly plotted with Zindashti, who lives in Iran, to murder the two intended victims, who were not identified. The trio left an electronic trail via the encrypted messaging service “SkyECC” as they discussed plans to recruit people for the job, commit the murders and negotiate payment, the DOJ stated.

Zindashti and Ryan exchanged numerous messages, complete with plans to shoot the victim enough to “erase his head from his torso,” as Pearson promised to instruct his recruits. They also negotiated a $350,000 fee plus $20,000 for expenses, the DOJ said. They were nabbed before they could carry out their plan.

“Thanks to the skilled work of federal prosecutors and law enforcement agents, this murder-for-hire conspiracy was disrupted, and the defendants will face justice,” said Andrew Luger, U.S. Attorney for the District of Minnesota, in the DOJ’s statement.

It was the second set of similar accusations in the past few days, after three other men were charged Friday for attempting to kill Iranian-American author and activist Masih Alinejad at her Brooklyn home last summer. Numerous others, including former national security adviser John Bolton, have also been targeted in thwarted assassination attempts.

The charges came in tandem with a crackdown by the U.S. and U.K. “against a network of individuals that targeted Iranian dissidents and opposition activists for assassination at the direction of the Iranian regime,” the U.S. Department of the Treasury said Monday. It’s all happening against the backdrop of heightening tensions in the Middle East.

U.S. officials maintain that Zindashti is a narcotics trafficker who uses his criminal network to orchestrate assassinations, kidnappings and other transnational repression tactics against people the Iranian government perceives as critical of its regime, operating at the behest of Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security.

“The Iranian regime’s continued efforts to target dissidents and activists demonstrate the regime’s deep insecurity and attempt to expand Iran’s domestic repression internationally,” Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian Nelson said in a statement.

With News Wire Services

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