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Iranian group tried to hire Hells Angels to kill defector, DoJ says

An Iranian drug trafficker with intelligence ties to Tehran has been charged with hiring members of the Hells Angels biker group to kill a defector and his female companion now living in the US, according to the Department of Justice.

According to a newly unsealed indictment, prosecutors say alleged drug smuggler Naji Sharifi Zindashti conspired with two Canadian nationals identified as Hells Angels members, Damion Patrick John Ryan and Adam Richard Pearson, in an unsuccessful plot to assassinate two residents of Maryland, one of whom had defected from Iran.

The two victims of the plot have not been publicly identified.

The three men are said to have conspired between December 2020 through March 2021, allegedly using an encrypted messaging service to recruit agents to travel to the US and carry out the killings, according to the DoJ.

According to the indictment, one of the Canadian men, Damion Ryan, allegedly wrote that carrying out a murder in the US would be challenging, but he “might have someone to do it”, and recommended “two guys go with proper equipment”/

The other Canadian man, Adam Pearson, also vowed to “make [an] example” of one of the victims by blowing his head clean off his body, the DoJ said.

Prosecutors allege Zindashti agreed to pay $350,000 plus $20,000 to cover expenses for the murders, to which Ryan responded, “We have a four-man team ready”.

All three men are charged with one count of conspiracy to use interstate commerce in the commission of murder for hire.

Pearson is also charged with one count of possession of a firearm by a fugitive from justice and one count of possession of a firearm by a non-US citizen unlawfully in the US.

An Iranian drug trafficker with intelligence ties to Tehran has been charged with hiring members of the Hells Angels biker group to kill a defector (AP)
An Iranian drug trafficker with intelligence ties to Tehran has been charged with hiring members of the Hells Angels biker group to kill a defector (AP)

Prosecutors say Ryan and Pearson are currently imprisoned in Canada on unrelated charges, while Zindashti currently resides in Iran.

The Treasury Department said Zindashti is a narcotics trafficker and leader of a network that operates “at the behest of Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security”.

His network has reportedly been responsible for murders in countries including the United Arab Emirates, Canada, and Turkey.

“Zindashti’s network has carried out numerous acts of transnational repression, including assassinations and kidnappings across multiple jurisdictions, in an attempt to silence the Iranian regime’s perceived critics. The network has also plotted operations in the United States,” the Treasury Department said in a statement.

The US and UK governments announced joint measures against Zindashti’s ring on Monday.

“To those in Iran who plot murders on US soil and the criminal actors who work with them, let today’s charges send a clear message: the Department of Justice will pursue you as long as it takes – and wherever you are – and deliver justice,” the assistant attorney general Matthew Olsen, of the justice department’s national security division, said.

This is not the first time criminal charges have been brought against people believed to have connections to Iran for threats against perceived opponents of the Iranian government.

The Justice Department previously charged three men, in a plot they say originated in Iran, to kill an Iranian American author and activist who has spoken out against human rights abuses in the country, and also brought charges in connection with a failed plot to assassinate John Bolton, the former Trump administration national security adviser.

The most recent charges come at a time of simmering tension between the US and Iran, including after a weekend drone strike in northeast Jordan near the Syrian border that killed three American troops and that the Biden administration attributed to Iran-backed militias.