Two Canadian men have been charged in what U.S. authorities are calling a “murder-for-hire scheme” allegedly coordinated in Iran.
The U.S. Department of Justice revealed Monday that the two men, 43-year-old Damion Patrick John Ryan and 29-year old Adam Richard Pearson, allegedly conspired with an Iranian national, Naji Sharifi Zindashti, to murder two people in Maryland.
The alleged conspiracy took place between December 2020 and March 2021, the Justice department said.
“As alleged, Mr. Zindashti and his team of gunmen, including a Minnesota resident, used an encrypted messaging service to orchestrate an assassination plot against two individuals,” said Andrew Luger, the U.S. attorney for the District of Minnesota, in a press release.
Both Ryan and Pearson are currently in jail in Canada on unrelated charges, American authorities said. Zindashti remains in Iran.
According to U.S. authorities, Zindashti ran a criminal network that “targets Iranian dissidents and opposition activists for kidnapping and assassination at the direction of the Iranian regime.” The U.S. has barred Zindashti and “several of his key associates” from transactions or deals involving American people or that take place in that country.
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The U.S. Department of the Treasury, in a separate release Monday, accused Zindashti of being a narcotics trafficker who ran a network of repression and assassination “at the behest of Iran’s Minitry of Intelligence and Security … across multiple jurisdictions in an attempt to silence the Iranian regime’s perceived critics.”
According to U.S. officials, those efforts have ramped up in recent years.
“A wide range of dissidents, journalists, activists, and former Iranian officials have been targeted for assassination, kidnapping, and hacking operations across numerous countries in the Middle East, Europe, and North America,” the Treasury department said.
“The regime increasingly relies on organized criminal groups in furtherance of these plots in an attempt to obscure links to the Government of Iran and maintain plausible deniability.”
U.S. officials allege Zindashti recruited Ryan, a member of the Hell’s Angels who allegedly has ties to criminals in the U.S., Canada and Greece. Ryan then recruited fellow Hell’s Angels affiliate Pearson to allegedly carry out the attack.
According to the Department of Justice, Zinashti and Ryan talked about “jobs,” “equipment” and plans to “make some money” between December 2020 and January 2021. The conversations allegedly took place over an encrypted chat application called “SkyECC.”
The intercepted communications described by U.S. officials in their statement suggest the two men discussed a job in the U.S. in January 2021, with Ryan cautioning jobs in the country were challenging but that he “might have someone to do it.” American authorities suggest he messaged Pearson the same day about a job in Maryland, with Peason stating “shooting is probably easiest thing for them” and that he was “on it.”
Pearson later said he would encourage the gunmen to “shoot (the victim) in the head a lot (to) make example” and that they “gotta erase his head from his torso.”
A total of $350,000 was promised as payment for the job, U.S. officials say, including $20,000 to cover expenses. An unnamed co-conspirator allegedly sent Ryan photos of the targets, as well as a map showing their address.
The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is still investigating the alleged conspiracy, and noted the assistance over both the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and the RCMP in Canada.
The RCMP did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the case Monday morning.
The three men have been charged with one count of “conspiracy to use interstate commerce facilities in the commission of murder-for-hire,” while Pearson is also facing charges of possessing a firearm while being a fugitive from justice and one count of unlawful possession of a firearm.
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