By Josh Campbell and Eliott C. McLaughlin, CNN
Iranian journalist and activist Masih Alinejad on Monday told the Iranian regime, “Go to hell,” just days after authorities informed her a man armed with an AK-47-style rifle was arrested in the Brooklyn neighborhood where she lives with her family, including her stepchildren.
Authorities are investigating whether the man in custody was there to harm her, a law enforcement official told CNN.
Alinejad was targeted in an alleged kidnapping plot by Iranian nationals last year after she spoke out against the Islamic republic. The plot was organized by an Iranian intelligence official, an indictment alleged, but Iran’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs denied any involvement, calling the accusation “baseless and ridiculous,” according to semiofficial Iranian state media.
In a CNN interview, she said the Iranian government had been targeting her and her family for her efforts to give voice to those being oppressed in the country where she was born.
“I’m not scared (for) my life at all because I know what I’m doing. I have only one life, and I dedicated my life to give voice to Iranian people inside Iran who bravely go to the streets — face guns and bullets to protest against Iranian regime — but this is happening in America,” she said.
Dictators are joining forces, sharing playbooks, she said, and if democratic countries don’t do the same, more Americans will be targeted. Toward the end of the televised interview, she asked if she could speak directly to the Iranian regime.
Facing the camera, her curly hair uncovered and decorated with a flower, she said, “Go to hell. I’m not scared of you. I have only one life. You care about power. I care about my dignity and freedom like millions of other people inside Iran. I’m not scared of you. You can kill me, but you cannot kill the idea. The idea is just fighting for freedom, dignity.”
Alinejad, a US citizen, then urged President Joe Biden to expel Iranian diplomats in the country.
“The Iranian regime twice challenged the US government on US soil. I deserve to have freedom in the United States of America. Kick them out. If you don’t, believe me, they’re going to come after more American citizens,” she said.
FBI informs of her of man with rifle
Alinejad was home Thursday when federal agents informed her about the armed person in her Brooklyn neighborhood, she said.
“I was told by the FBI to stay away from your home,” Alinejad told CNN on Sunday. “I was shocked. I couldn’t even believe it. I was telling myself, ‘If I opened the door, what was I going to do?’ “
Officers with the New York Police Department arrested Khalid Mehdiyev on Thursday as he drove away from the Brooklyn neighborhood after he failed to stop at a stop sign, according to a federal criminal complaint. NYPD officers found he was driving without a license because it had been suspended, the complaint says.
Police later found in the back seat of his vehicle a suitcase containing a “Norinco AK-47-style assault rifle … loaded with a round in the chamber and a magazine attached, along with a separate second magazine, and a total of approximately 66 rounds of ammunition,” the complaint says. Officers also found $1,100 in $100 bills, the complaint says.
He is charged with possessing a firearm with an “obliterated” serial number, the complaint says. Mehdiyev is set to be back in court August 12. His attorney, Stephanie Marie Carvlin, told CNN the defense has no comment at this stage in the case.
Law enforcement officials saw Mehdiyev, a Yonkers resident, in the Brooklyn neighborhood on two occasions last week and also discovered he had been issued a parking ticket in the same neighborhood the week before, on July 23, according to the complaint.
On Thursday morning, Mehdiyev drove a gray Subaru Forester SUV and stayed in the area for several hours where he “behaved suspiciously,” the complaint states. On one occasion, Mehdiyev got in and out of his car several times, ordered food delivery to his car and approached a home in the neighborhood — where Alinejad resides — peering inside the windows and trying to open the front door, the complaint says.
Following his arrest, police also recovered two license plates with different numbers and from different states than the Illinois tag on the Subaru, the complaint says.
Mehdiyev, according to the complaint, told authorities his rent in Yonkers was too high, and he was visiting Brooklyn to find an apartment. The cash was for a hotel room, and he approached the home in the Brooklyn neighborhood because he intended to ask if the owners might rent him a room, before changing his mind, the complaint says he told investigators. The Subaru was borrowed, and he did not know the suitcase — which he said was not his — contained a rifle, he initially told investigators, according to the complaint.
The suspect later told agents “the AK-47 was his, and that he had been in Brooklyn because he was looking for someone,” before invoking his right to counsel, the complaint says.
‘My stepchildren live in the same house’
Alinejad was on a Zoom call with the chairman of the Human Rights Foundation, Garry Kasparov, and Venezuelan politician and opposition leader Leopoldo López when she found out about the armed person, she said.
The trio was discussing how they can unite, as the Russian, Venezuelan and Iranian “dictators” are doing, she said Monday.
“I’m glad my friend @AlinejadMasih is healthy and safe and that the police acted capably against what might have been a deadly situation,” Kasparov tweeted from his verified account Sunday.
Alinejad shared a security video on Twitter showing the man she says federal agents told her was the same man arrested by police Thursday.
“These are the scary scenes capturing a man who tried to enter my house in New York with a loaded gun to kill me,” she tweeted, though no gun can be seen in the image. “Last year the FBI stopped the Islamic Republic from kidnapping me. My crime is giving voice to voiceless people. The US administration must be tough on terror.”
She keeps watching the video, thinking, “Wow,” she told CNN on Monday.
“My stepchildren live in the same house, and just imagine if the guy had opened fire. Who knows how many of my neighbors would’ve been killed? My beautiful and supportive neighbors,” she said.
Alinejad has spoken monthly with federal agents since the alleged kidnapping attempt last year, she said.
“I really thought that the plot was over. I thought, ‘OK, I can focus on my job’ — which I am going to do. Nothing is going to stop me,” she said. “I see this as the continuation of trying to keep Iranian women down.”
A voice for the ‘voiceless’
Alinejad, who frequently shares photos and videos of what she calls “voiceless” Iranian women through her social media accounts, says Iranian officials recently warned her about her activism.
A spokesperson for Iran’s Headquarters for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice announced in July anyone who sends videos to Alinejad regarding the hijab or commits other anti-government activities is subject to a sentence of up to 10 years in prison.
Alinejad said the Iranian government has also forced women to publicly denounce her for her work.
“I don’t have any weapon. My weapon is this. My weapon is my mobile, and I have photos on my Instagram and my social media, I publish the videos of Iranian mothers. The Iranian regime killed their sons. I just give them voice. I give voice to these women,” she said.
The regime has jailed her brother, brought her sister onto TV to disown her and interrogated her mother “for hours and hours” to punish her, she said.
“I don’t have any enemy. I’m not a criminal so, of course, this is the Iranian regime,” she told CNN. “When the US government does not take strong action, of course, they feel more powerful to continue this. I see this as a pattern, a continuation of oppressing women, oppressing dissidents outside Iran.”
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CNN’s Liam Reilly, Brianna Keilar and John Avlon contributed to this report.