The FBI wants to know why a man was near the New York City home of a well-known Iranian journalist and author while allegedly in possession of an illegal military-style rifle loaded with 30 rounds.
The agency is probing whether the suspect, federally charged with possession of a firearm that lacked a visible serial number, was there as part of a possible plot to neutralize or assassinate Masih Alinejad, two law enforcement sources said.
Iranian intelligence plotted unsuccessfully last year to kidnap Alinejad, a Voice of America Persian Service host, the FBI said.
Alinejad said at the time that she believed the government wanted to shut down her social media voice.
Iran’s Islamist rulers "not only wanted to make sure that I physically didn’t exist anymore, they also wanted to destroy my Instagram, Facebook, Telegram and WhatsApp channels," she said in a video message distributed by VOA.
Iran has denied the 2021 allegation, calling it "baseless."
Sunday afternoon Alinejad tweeted security video that shows a large man on her porch trying to open a door. Alinejad said that he is the suspect who was arrested and charged with the gun violation and that he had come to her Brooklyn home to kill her.
"My crime is giving voice to voiceless people," she tweeted.
New York City police arrested Khalid Mehdiyev, of Yonkers, New York, near Alinejad's residence Thursday for allegedly driving on a suspended license, according to the affidavit filed Friday along with a criminal complaint.
Police initially stopped him for allegedly driving past a stop sign without fully stopping, the document states. He was being held without bond.
FBI agents had had the man under surveillance since at least the previous day and appeared to corroborate Alinejad's claim that he had been on her porch and "attempted to open the front door," FBI Special Agent Derek Kasse wrote in the affidavit.
The court document also claims that the vehicle Mehdiyev was using was issued a parking ticket near Alinejad’s home July 23.
On Thursday, following the traffic stop, police said they found a Chinese-made AK-47 clone in a suitcase in the back of the vehicle, where they also discovered 66 rounds of ammunition, most of them inside two magazines, one of which was attached to the rifle, the FBI alleged.
The affidavit adds that $1,100 in cash was in the suitcase with the gun. The Subaru Forrester driven by Mehdiyev had Illinois plates and, inside, plates from two other states, the FBI alleges.
In an interview with agents after his arrest, Mehdiyev said that he had borrowed the vehicle and that the case, the gun and the ammunition were not his, according to the affidavit.
But he reversed course in a subsequent interview, saying the gun was his and then asking for a lawyer, Kasse wrote.
It is not clear whether Mehdiyev had retained counsel. The federal public defender's office for the Brooklyn area did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Alinejad has been critical of Iran's leadership, particularly about its record on women's rights and human rights.
"Last year, the Islamic Republic, tried to kidnap me, now they want to kill me," Alinejad tweeted Sunday.
An FBI spokeswoman confirmed Mehdiyev’s arrest. The agency declined to comment further.