US, Britain announce sanctions on network that targeted critics of Iran

British Foreign Secretary David Cameron
British Foreign Secretary David Cameron hold a press conference in Pristina, Kosovo January 4, 2024 [Valdrin Xhemaj/Reuters]

The United States and the United Kingdom have imposed sanctions on a network of people who targeted Iranian opposition activists for assassination under Iran’s orders, the US Treasury Department has said.

The US Treasury said the network was 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.

“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 undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence.

There was no immediate comment from Iran.

The Treasury said that the network, led by Sharifi-Zindashti, had carried out assassinations and kidnappings across several jurisdictions to silence perceived critics of Tehran.

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

The Treasury said that in 2021 the network had recruited a Canadian national and British Columbia-based Hells Angels Outlaw Motorcycle Group member, Damion Patrick John Ryan, to assassinate individuals in the US who fled Iran.

Ryan also allegedly recruited Canadian national and Hells Angels affiliate Adam Richard Pearson to carry out the murders, the Treasury said. Both are currently imprisoned abroad on unrelated charges.

The sanctions come amid soaring tensions in the Middle East. The US and UK accused Iran-backed groups earlier on Monday of a drone attack in Jordan near the border with Syria that killed three US military personnel.

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 Tehran.

The UK Foreign Office said it would “sanction seven individuals and one organisation, including senior Iranian officials and members of organised criminal gangs who collaborate with the regime.”

“The Iranian regime and the criminal gangs who operate on its behalf pose an unacceptable threat to the UK’s security,” British Foreign Secretary David Cameron said in a statement.

“The UK and US have sent a clear message – we will not tolerate this threat,” he added.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies