January 29, 2024

Iran sanctioned over plot to use bikie gang members to kill dissidents in US, UK

By Doina Chiacu and Daphne Psaledakis
January 30, 2024 — 5.45am
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Washington: The United States and Britain imposed sanctions on a network of people who targeted Iranian dissidents and opposition activists for assassination at Iran’s direction, the US Treasury Department said on Monday, US time.

Damion Patrick John RyanCredit: BC-CFSEU

The US Treasury in a statement accused the network of being directed by Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security and put sanctions on 11 people connected to it, including Iranian narcotics trafficker Naji Ibrahim Sharifi-Zindashti, who it said is the leader.

The Treasury said Zindashti’s network had carried out assassinations and kidnappings across a number of jurisdictions, aiming to silence Tehran’s perceived critics.

“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 Brian Nelson, Treasury’s under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence.

The Treasury action freezes any US assets of those targeted and generally bars Americans from dealing with them.


In announcing the targets for the sanctions, the Treasury Department said that in 2021, the network recruited Canadian national and British Columbia-based Hells Angels Outlaw Motorcycle Group member Damion Patrick John Ryan to assassinate individuals in the United States who fled Iran.

Ryan also recruited Canadian national and Hells Angels affiliate Adam Richard Pearson to carry out the murders, Treasury said. Both are presently jailed abroad on unrelated criminal matters.

Zindashti, Pearson and Ryan were charged with conspiracy to use interstate commerce in the commission of a murder-for-hire plot, the Department of Justice said in a statement on Monday. It said the three conspired with each other in a plot to murder two residents of the state of Maryland who had fled to the US after one of them defected from Iran.


Also targeted were people involved in the assassination of Iranian cybersecurity official turned critic Mas’ud Vardanjani and British-Iranian dissident Saeed Karimian, Washington said.


Britain imposed sanctions on Iranian officials it said were involved in threats to kill journalists on British soil, and others it said were part of international criminal gangs linked to Iran.

The sanctions targeted seven individuals and one organisation, Britain’s Foreign Office said.

The sanctioned Iranian officials are members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Unit 840, which an ITV investigation in Britain said was involved in plots to assassinate two television presenters from news channel Iran International in Britain.

The sanctions come at a time of increased tensions between Iran and the US.

US troops have been attacked over 150 times in Iraq, Syria and Jordan, as well as on warships in the Red Sea, where Houthi fighters in Yemen have been firing drones and missiles at them.


On Monday, US time, US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin vowed that the United States would take “all necessary actions” to defend its troops after a drone attack by Iran-backed militants that killed three US service members and wounded dozens more.

The attack on Sunday was the first deadly strike against US troops since the Israel-Hamas war erupted in October, and marks a major escalation in tensions that have engulfed the Middle East.

“Let me start with my outrage and sorrow (for) the deaths of three brave U.S. troops in Jordan and for the other troops who were wounded,” Austin said at the Pentagon.

“The president and I will not tolerate attacks on US forces and we will take all necessary actions to defend the US and our troops,” Austin added at the start of meeting with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the Pentagon.

The United States is trying to determine exactly why the nearly 350 troops at the base in Jordan, known as Tower 22, were unable to stop the drone.

Two officials said a US drone was approaching the base around the same time the attack drone was incoming. One of the officials said the attack drone was also flying low, factors that may have contributed to it being missed by base defences.


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