Indictment accuses Iran of hiring Canadian gang members to conduct assassinations on US soil

One Iranian and two Canadian nationals have been charged with conspiracy to conduct assassinations in the U.S. on behalf of Iran’s intelligence services, according to allegations in a newly unsealed indictment.

According to court documents, from December 2020 through March 2021, Naji Sharifi Zindashti, 49, Damion Patrick John Ryan, 43, and Adam Richard Pearson, 29, conspired with each other in a plot to murder two residents of the state of Maryland. The defendants, one of whom is based in Iran, used an encrypted messaging service called “SkyECC” to recruit individuals who would travel into the United States to carry out the killings, to discuss the identities and locations of the would-be victims, to plan logistics and mechanics of how to carry out the murders, and to negotiate payment for completion of this “job” in Maryland. The intended victims of this plot, who at the time resided in Maryland, had previously fled to the United States after one of them defected from Iran.

The charges unsealed Monday by the U.S. Department of Justice include details of the alleged plot, including the sum the would-be killers had charged for the job: $350,000 US.

News of the charges emerges at a time of acutely high tension with Iran, as the U.S. threatens retaliation after three U.S. military members were killed in an attack by an Iran-backed militia.

The indictment identifies one Canadian suspect as Damion Patrick John Ryan, a full-patch member of the Hells Angels criminal gang

The indictment identifies one Canadian suspect as Damion Patrick John Ryan, a full-patch member of the Hells Angels criminal gang who allegedly assembled a team of gunmen in late 2020 and early 2021. He was allegedly working with another Canadian, Adam Richard Pearson, who was living illegally in Minnesota at the time.

They were hired by an accused Iranian drug-dealer who operates on the instructions of a certain officer with Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security, according to the U.S.

As alleged in the indictment, between December 2020 and January 2021, Zindashti and Ryan communicated about “jobs,” “equipment,” “tools” and plans to “make some money.” In January 2021, they discussed a job in the United States, with Ryan noting that doing a job in the United States was challenging, but that he “might have someone to do it.” That same day he messaged Pearson about a “job” in Maryland. Pearson stated, “shooting is probably easiest thing for them,” and that he was “on it.” Ryan recommended “2 guys go with proper equipment.” Pearson said he would encourage the recruits for the job to “shoot [the victim] in the head a lot [to] make example” and that he would tell them “we gotta erase his head from his torso.”

On or about Jan. 30, 2021, Zindashti messaged Ryan on SkyECC seeking an update on the job. Ryan responded that he was getting “things in order” and that he would need money. A few days later, Zindashti told Ryan that Zindashti’s organization was ready to move forward. Zindashti and Ryan then agreed on a $350,000 payment for the “job,” in addition to $20,000 to cover expenses.  After Zindashti introduced Ryan to Co-Conspirator 1, Ryan responded: “We have a 4 man team ready.”

Over the days that followed, Ryan and Co-Conspirator 1 continued to correspond on SkyECC about the plot. Specifically, Co-Conspirator 1 sent Ryan information about the would-be victims, including their photographs and images of a map that highlighted the victims’ known address. In or around March 8, 2021, Co-Conspirator 1 facilitated a $20,000 payment to Ryan for purposes of covering travel expenses associated with the plot.    

All three of the defendants are charged with one count of conspiracy to use interstate commerce facilities in the commission of murder-for-hire. Pearson is also charged with one count of possession of a firearm by a fugitive from justice and one count of possession of a firearm by an alien unlawfully in the United States.

Zindashti currently resides in Iran. Ryan and Pearson are currently incarcerated in Canada on unrelated offenses.

The FBI is investigating the case with valuable assistance from the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew R. Winter for the District of Minnesota, Trial Attorney Menno Goedman of the National Security Division’s Counterintelligence and Export Control Section, and Trial Attorney Joshua Champagne of the National Security Division’s Counterterrorism Section are prosecuting the case.