Two alleged agents of the Iranian government were charged on Aug. 20 in federal court for conducting covert surveillance of Jewish facilities and Israeli institutions in the United States. Now, Los Angeles-area Iranian Jewish activists and leaders say they are concerned for their community’s safety.
According to a criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., Ahmadreza Doostdar, 38, a dual U.S.-Iranian citizen born in Long Beach, and Majid Ghorbani, 59, of Costa Mesa, were charged with allegedly conducting surveillance in July 2017 at a Chabad House in Chicago and at a Jewish student center at the University of Chicago.
The complaint also states that in late 2017, Doostdar returned to the United States from Iran and met with Ghorbani in the Los Angeles area to give him $2,000 in cash for taking pictures of Iranian government opposition activists living in the U.S.
“Our community was not surprised by the news of the [arrests] because we’ve long believed the regime has sent its people here to conduct various nefarious activities,” Susan Azizzadeh, president of the West Hollywood-based Iranian American Jewish Federation, told the Journal. “We are no doubt concerned for our safety, but grateful to our law enforcement for stopping these agents of the regime before they could do any real harm.”
Even after fleeing Iran nearly 40 years ago, local Iranian Jewish leaders believe the Iranian government still targets their community in the U.S. and seeks to harm both Jewish and non-Jewish communities in America.
“These arrests are a stark reminder of the threat that the Iranian regime poses, not just to its people and its neighbors, but to American citizens,” said Sam Yebri, president of 30 Years After, a local Iranian Jewish nonprofit group.
Frank Nikbakht, an Iranian Jewish activist who heads the L.A.-area Committee for Minority Rights in Iran, said the alleged spies are likely part of a larger network of agents Iran has sent to the U.S. during the last 20 years to carry out potential terrorist strikes.
“The Iranian regime has always been preparing for the day when they are cornered like a hissing cat, when they will release their sleeper cells in America,” Nikbakht said. “Jewish and opposition symbols are considered soft targets, while anti-Jewish attacks will send strong messages to Israel.”
He added that Iran’s leaders are always more than willing to order terrorist strikes in the U.S. and against Jewish targets because Iran has a long and bloody history of successfully assassinating Iranian opposition leaders in Europe, bombing U.S. targets worldwide, and bombing Jewish and Israeli sites in Argentina during the 1990s.
“All Iranian expatriates, including opposition groups, anti-Iranian regime Muslims and Jews must drop their lax attitudes and their indifference to the presence of pro-regime elements among their communities,” Nikbakht said.
Local Iranian Jews were already on edge before these arrests. Last July, Farsi-language fliers were left by an unknown source throughout Westwood’s Persian Square district announcing the inception of a group calling itself the “Army of Hezbollah in America.” Los Angles-area Iranian Jews also have been vocal in their efforts to expose anti-Semitic entertainers visiting from Iran. Last December, nearly 50 Iranian Jewish protesters marched outside downtown L.A.’s Microsoft Theater against Iranian singer Mohsen Yeganeh. In 2015, various community activists also launched a campaign against Akbar Abdi’s shows in California. Abdi is an Iranian Muslim comedian who had used derogatory terms to describe Jews.
Several local non-Jewish Iranian activists who oppose the Iranian government said they have long warned local authorities about threats from individuals sent by Iran.
“For the last two decades, many agents of the Iranian regime have been openly operating here in Los Angeles, successfully hiding among the larger Iranian-American community, which hates the current regime,” said Roozbeh Farahanipour, co-founder of the Marze Por Gohar group based in Westwood, which opposes the current Iranian leadership.
Farahanipour believes that when his car tires were slashed on several occasions in 2003, it was done by agents of the Iranian government. He said he has reported incidents to the Los Angeles Police Department regarding possible Iranian agents openly threatening him. He also told the Journal he’s seen people associated with the Iranian leadership openly harassing people in Westwood Village for drinking alcohol, and hassling Iranian women for not covering their hair or for wearing “sexy clothing” in public.
In 2000, 2004 and 2008, Farahanipour and members of his group also called on local law enforcement to shut down voting stations in Los Angeles they said were being illegally operated and set up by agents of the Iranian government so local Iranians could vote in Iran’s presidential elections.
“Our experience and knowledge of the Iranian political scene and the anti-Semitic nature of the regime has to be shared with the authorities,” said George Haroonian, a former board member of the Iranian Nessah synagogue in Beverly Hiills. “In this age of political correctness, it is our duty as loyal American citizens to clarify the issues for the law enforcement authorities.”