WASHINGTON — Today, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets
Control (OFAC) and the United Kingdom are taking joint action against a network of individuals that targeted Iranian dissidents and opposition activists for assassination at the direction of the Iranian regime. The network is led by Iranian narcotics trafficker Naji Ibrahim Sharifi-Zindashti (Zindashti) and operates at the behest of Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS). Zindashti’s network has carried out numerous acts of transnational repression including assassinations and kidnappings across multiple jurisdictions in an attempt to silence the Iranian regime’s perceived critics. The network has also plotted operations in the United States. Today’s action is being taken in conjunction with the unsealing of an indictment by the Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The United Kingdom is also designating Mohammad Reza Ansari, who was previously designated by OFAC.
“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 Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, Brian E. Nelson. “The United States, alongside our international allies and partners, including the United Kingdom, will continue to combat the Iranian regime’s transnational repression and will utilize all available tools to stop this threat, especially on U.S. soil.”
Today’s action is being taken pursuant to Executive Order (E.O.) 13553, which authorizes sanctions on certain persons with respect to serious human rights abuses by the Government of Iran. The MOIS was designated pursuant to E.O. 13553 on February 16, 2012 for being responsible for or complicit in the commission of serious human rights abuses against the Iranian people since June 12, 2009. The MOIS was also concurrently designated pursuant to the counterterrorism authority, E.O. 13224, for its support to multiple terrorist groups, including Hizballah, Hamas, and Al-Qa’ida, and pursuant to E.O. 13572, an authority that targets those responsible for human rights abuses in Syria, for its support to the Syrian General Intelligence Directorate.
Iranian Transnational Repression
The MOIS and Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) have long targeted perceived regime opponents in acts of transnational repression outside of Iran, a practice that the regime has accelerated 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 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. Notable examples include: the kidnapping of Jamshid Sharmahd, an Iranian-German activist who was kidnapped while traveling abroad in July 2020 and forcibly brought to Iran, where he has been sentenced to death after being subjected to a sham trial; the assassination of Ahmad Molla Nissi, a Dutch-Ahwazi activist, in The Hague in 2017; and the kidnapping of Ruhollah Zam, a journalist, from Iraq in October 2019, who was then tortured and executed in Iran on December 12, 2020.
Treasury has consistently taken actions to address Iranian transnational plotting within the United States, to include: the October 2011 designations of five senior IRGC-Qods Force (IRGC-QF) officials involved in an Iranian plot to assassinate the Saudi Arabian Ambassador to the United States; the December 2020 designation of an individual involved in the IRGC-QF’s efforts to plan and execute operations in the Middle East and the United States; the September 2021 designations of four Iranian intelligence operatives targeting Iranian dissidents in the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, and the United Arab Emirates; the June 2023 designations of five IRGC-QF officials and affiliates involved in a series of terrorist plots, including assassination plots targeting former U.S. government officials; and the December 2023 designations of two Iranian intelligence officers who recruited individuals for operations within the United States, which also included the lethal targeting of current and former U.S. government officials.
Naji Ibrahim Sharifi-Zindashti and Key Associates
Iran-based narco-trafficker Zindashti and his network are intertwined with Iran’s transnational repression efforts to silence and intimidate dissidents, former insiders, and other perceived opponents by carrying out assassinations and kidnappings under the direction of the MOIS across multiple continents. Iranian security forces protect Zindashti and his criminal empire, enabling Zindashti to thrive in the country’s drug market and live a life of luxury while his network exports the regime’s repression, carrying out heinous operations on the government’s behalf. Zindashti’s network has been linked to murders in several countries, including the United Arab Emirates, Canada, and Türkiye.
Reza Hamidiravari, an MOIS officer, oversees Zindashti’s MOIS-directed operations.
Nihat Abdul Kadir Asan (Asan) is a close Zindashti associate also based in Iran who has played a pivotal role in logistical planning for many of the network’s operations, including the network’s plot to assassinate individuals in the United States.
Ekrem Abdulkerym Oztunc (Oztunc), Zindashti’s nephew, is also a close associate and key lieutenant in Zindashti’s network residing in Iran. In his role as Zindashti’s close aide, Oztunc has assisted Asan and Zindashti in sensitive communications. Oztunc was previously arrested alongside Zindashti in Istanbul in 2018 on murder charges.
Shahram Ali Reza Tamarzadeh Zavieh Jakki (Jakki) is Zindashti’s brother-in-law living in Iran and is active in the Zindashti criminal network. Jakki has aided Zindashti by coordinating with Zindashti’s MOIS handler on operational logistics and finances.
Naji Ibrahim Sharifi-Zindashti, Nihat Abdul Kadir Asan, and Shahram Ali Reza Tamarzadeh Zavieh Jakki are being designated pursuant to E.O. 13553 for having materially assisted, sponsored, or provided financial, material, or technological support for, or goods or services to or in support of, the MOIS.
Reza Hamidiravari is being designated pursuant to E.O. 13553 for having acted or purported to act for or on behalf of, directly or indirectly, the MOIS.
Ekrem Abdulkerym Oztunc is being designated pursuant to E.O. 13553 for having materially assisted, sponsored, or provided financial, material, or technological support for, or goods or services to or in support of, Naji Ibrahim Sharifi-Zindashti.
Assassination Plot in the United States
In 2021, Zindashti’s network recruited Canadian national and British Columbia-based Hells Angels Outlaw Motorcycle Group member Damion Patrick John Ryan (Ryan) to assassinate individuals in the United States who fled Iran. Ryan, whose criminal history ranges from firearms trafficking charges to international drug trafficking, has ties to criminal elements in Canada, the United States, and Greece. Zindashti associate Asan worked closely with Ryan to plan the assassinations, sending the location and photos of the targets, in addition to coordinating payment details. Ryan also recruited Canadian national and Hell’s Angels affiliate Adam Richard Pearson (Pearson) to carry out the murders.
Both Ryan and Pearson are presently incarcerated abroad on unrelated criminal matters.
Damion Patrick John Ryan is being designated pursuant to E.O. 13553 for having materially assisted, sponsored, or provided financial, material or technological support for, or goods or services to or in support of Nihat Abdulkadir Asan.
Adam Richard Pearson is being designated pursuant to E.O. 13553 for having materially assisted, sponsored, or provided financial, material or technological support for, or goods or services to or in support of Damion Patrick John Ryan.
Additional Assassination and Kidnapping Plots
Zindashti has previously cooperated with the MOIS to target regime dissidents. In 2020, as part of an MOIS-sponsored operation, Habib Chaab, a leader of the Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of Ahvaz (ASMLA), was abducted in Türkiye by Zindashti’s men. Chaab was then smuggled into Iran where he was imprisoned, tortured, forced to confess under duress, and ultimately convicted of “corruption on earth” following a trial which lacked fair-trial guarantees. Iranian authorities executed Chaab in May 2023.
In 2019, the MOIS used Zindashti and his men to assassinate former Iranian cybersecurity official turned regime critic Mas’ud Vardanjani (Vardanjani) in Istanbul. Vardanjani, who was outspoken in his condemnation of the Iranian regime, publicly disclosed documents exposing financial corruption and assassinations by the regime via his Telegram channel. As part of the MOIS plot, Ali Esfanjani (Esfanjani) befriended Vardanjani, fed the MOIS information about him, and ultimately led him to the location where he was assassinated by Abdulvahap Kocak. Abulvahap Kocak used Zindashti’s residence as a safe house following the murder but was later captured by Turkish authorities. Nominally Zindashti’s gardener, Abdulvahap Kocak, served as a hitman who has been implicated in multiple assassinations ordered by Zindashti, including the killing of a rival drug trafficker’s attorney in Istanbul in 2017. Abdulvahap Kocak is currently incarcerated in Türkiye. Muhammad Reza Naserzadeh, a staff member of the Iranian Consulate in Istanbul involved in the assassination plot, forged documents for Esfanjani to help him escape to Iran following the assassination.
Also in 2017, British-Iranian dissident Saeed Karimian (Karimian), who owned GEM TV and used it to broadcast content critical of the Iranian regime, was shot and killed in Istanbul along with Kuwaiti businessman Muhammad Mer Almuntari. Zindashti was later discovered to be behind the double murder. Ali Kocak, Abdulvahap Kocak’s brother and an associate of Zindashti’s network who is now based in Iran, conducted surveillance on the targets prior to the murder.
Abulvahap Kocak and Ali Kocak are being designated pursuant to E.O. 13553 for having materially assisted, sponsored, or provided financial, material, or technological support for, or goods or services to or in support of, Naji Ibrahim Sharifi-Zindashti.
Ali Esfanjani and Muhammad Reza Naserzadeh are being designated pursuant to E.O. 13553 for having materially assisted, sponsored, or provided financial, material, or technological support for, or goods or services to or in support of, the MOIS.
As a result of today’s action, all property and interests in property of the individuals that are in the United States or in the possession or control of U.S. persons must be blocked and reported to OFAC. OFAC’s sanctions generally prohibit all dealings by U.S. persons or within the United States (including transactions transiting the United States) that involve any property or interests in property of blocked or designated persons.
In addition, persons that engage in certain transactions with the individuals designated today may themselves be exposed to designation. Furthermore, any foreign financial institution that knowingly facilitates a significant transaction or provides significant financial services for any of the individuals designated today could be subject to U.S. correspondent or payable-through account sanctions.
The power and integrity of OFAC sanctions derive not only from its ability to designate and add persons to the Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons List (SDN List), but also from its willingness to remove persons from the SDN List consistent with the law. The ultimate goal of sanctions is not to punish, but to bring about a positive change in behavior. For information concerning the process for seeking removal from an OFAC list, including the SDN List, please refer to OFAC’s Frequently Asked Question 897.