Thousands of Iranian-Canadians and their supporters commemorated the first death anniversary of Mahsa Amini and protested against the Iranian Islamic regime in Toronto, Ontario, Canada on September 16, 2023. REUTERS./

By Doina Chiacu and Daphne Psaledakis

 – The United States and Britain on Monday imposed sanctions on a network of people who targeted Iranian dissidents and opposition activists for assassination at Iran‘s direction, the U.S. Treasury Department said on Monday.

The U.S. Treasury in a statement accused the network of being 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, who it said is the leader.

The Treasury said Zindashti’s network had carried out assassinations and kidnappings across a number of jurisdictions, aiming to silence Tehran’s perceived critics.

“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 under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence.

The Treasury action freezes any U.S. assets of those targeted and generally bars Americans from dealing with them.

In announcing the targets for the sanctions, the Treasury Department said that in 2021, the network recruited Canadian national and British Columbia-based Hells Angels Outlaw Motorcycle Group member Damion Patrick John Ryan to assassinate individuals in the United States who fled Iran.

Ryan also recruited Canadian national and Hells Angels affiliate Adam Richard Pearson to carry out the murders, Treasury said. Both are presently jailed abroad on unrelated criminal matters.

Zindashti, Pearson and Ryan were charged with conspiracy to use interstate commerce in the commission of a murder-for-hire plot, the Department of Justice said in a statement on Monday. It said the three conspired with each other in a plot to murder two residents of the state of Maryland who had fled to the U.S. after one of them defected from Iran.

Also targeted were people involved in the assassination of Iranian cybersecurity official turned critic Mas’ud Vardanjani and British-Iranian dissident Saeed Karimian, Washington said.

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 Iran.

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The sanctions targeted seven individuals and one organisation, Britain’s Foreign Office said.

The sanctioned Iranian officials are members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Unit 840, which an ITV investigation in Britain said was involved in plots to assassinate two television presenters from news channel Iran International in Britain.

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(Reporting by Susan Heavey, Doina Chiacu and Daphne Psaledakis in Washington and Sachin Ravikumar, Muvija M and Michael Holden in London; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama, Alison Williams and Nick Macfie)