US charges three in Iran-backed effort to assassinate journalist

NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. prosecutors have charged three members of an Eastern European criminal organization with ties to Iran's government with conspiring to assassinate a journalist and activist who is an American citizen, Attorney General Merrick Garland said on Friday.

Rafat Amirov, Polad Omarov and Khalid Mehdiyev were charged with murder-for-hire and money laundering for their role in the thwarted Tehran-backed plot, the Department of Justice said in a statement.

"The victim publicized (the) Iranian government's human rights abuses, discriminatory treatment of women, suppression of democratic participation and expression and use of arbitrary imprisonment, torture and execution," Garland said.

Garland did not name the alleged victim, but Mehdiyev was arrested last year in New York for having a rifle outside the Brooklyn home of journalist Masih Alinejad, a longtime critic of Iran's head-covering laws who has promoted videos of women violating those laws on social media.

Amirov was arrested on Thursday and will have a pretrial hearing in federal court in Manhattan later on Friday. Omarov was arrested in the Czech Republic earlier this month.

(Reporting by Luc Cohen in New York; editing by Richard Cowan and Jonathan Oatis)