Two Canadians planned to conduct assassinations in the U.S. on behalf of Iran's intelligence services, according to allegations in a newly unsealed indictment.
The suspects are accused of plotting to shoot a man and woman living in Maryland, one of them a defector from Iran.
The charges unsealed Monday by the U.S. Department of Justice include details of the alleged plot, including the sum the would-be killers had charged for the job: $350,000 US.
News of the charges emerges at a time of acutely high tension with Iran, as the U.S. threatens retaliation after three U.S. military members were killed in an attack by an Iran-backed militia.
The indictment identifies one Canadian suspect as Damion Patrick John Ryan, a full-patch member of the Hells Angels criminal gang who allegedly assembled a team of gunmen in late 2020 and early 2021. He was allegedly working with another Canadian, Adam Richard Pearson, who was living illegally in Minnesota at the time.
They were hired by an accused Iranian drug-dealer who operates on the instructions of a certain officer with Iran's Ministry of Intelligence and Security, according to the U.S.
Three soldiers were killed in an overnight drone strike targeting U.S. troops near the Syrian border. President Joe Biden has vowed to retaliate, adding to fears of an escalated conflict in the Middle East.
According to the indictment, Pearson promised that he would recruit people and promised to tell them to shoot the victims repeatedly in the head in order to make an example of them.
He also allegedly texted Ryan to say, of one intended victim: "We gotta erase his head from his torso."
U.S. announces sanctions against network
In a separate action Monday, the United States government announced financial sanctions against the network run by the alleged drug-dealer, Naji Ibrahim Sharifi-Zindashti.
American authorities say Zindashti is based in Iran and his criminal operation is given free rein by the Ministry of Intelligence and Security.
In exchange for state protection, they say, the criminal group carries out assassinations and kidnappings, on multiple continents, of dissidents and opponents of the Iranian regime; according to the U.S. Treasury Department, these operations were overseen by MOIS officer Reza Hamidiravari.
"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," said U.S. Treasury official Brian Nelson.
The charges do not identify the intended targets in Maryland. Authorities said the assassination plot against them was stopped before it could be carried out.
"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 U.S. prosecutor Andrew Luger, based in Minnesota.
As for the suspects, both are already in prison. Ryan is currently jailed in Canada on firearms charges and Pearson was arrested by the FBI in 2021 and extradited to Canada over a murder in Alberta four years ago.
They are now charged in the U.S. with one count of conspiracy to use interstate commerce facilities in a murder-for-hire plot, as is Zindashti.
Pearson also faces separate firearms charges.
The new allegations have not been proven in court.