A Yonkers man who allegedly tried to execute a Brooklyn journalist critical of Iran’s authoritarian regime pleaded not guilty to murder-for-hire charges in Manhattan on Wednesday.
Wearing beige prison clothing and shackles around his waist and ankles, Khalid Mehdiyev entered his plea in Manhattan Federal Court. The 24-year-old was arrested in July after NYPD officers caught him driving away from Iranian dissident Masih Alinejad’s Flatbush, Brooklyn, home with an AK-47 assault rifle, 66 rounds of ammo and a ski mask.
The feds say Mehdiyev, who has been at the Metropolitan Detention Center since his summer arrest, was following orders to assassinate Alinejad from Rafat Amirov, 43, and Polad Omarov, 38.
Amirov also appeared in court Wednesday. Prosecutors say he orchestrated the botched hit while he was in Iran, enlisting Czech Republic-based Omarov to recruit Mehdiyev. Manhattan prosecutors did not explicitly accuse the Iranian government of ordering the hit, but that is strongly implied in the indictment.
An American citizen, Alinejad fled her native country in 2009. The author and human rights activist has been a vocal critic of Iran’s oppression of women and, in particular, the regime’s mandate that they wear headscarves in public.
Alinejad shared a video of Mehdiyev trying to get into her house on one of the days he was staking her out. She previously told the Daily News about living in three safe houses. The FBI told her to broadcast videos on social media from various locations to attract Iranian intelligence officials’ attention.
Prosecutors said the alleged death squad’s plot followed efforts by the Iranian government to have Alinejad abducted.
That included a plan to kidnap her in Brooklyn, take her from the East River to Venezuela in a boat and lock her up in an Iranian prison, prosecutors said.
Amirov and Mehdiyev were due back in court in May. Omarov is awaiting extradition, a process that could take years, which a prosecutor said Wednesday.