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WASHINGTON —A New York man has been arrested on a weapons charge after he was found lingering outside the home last week of a VOA Persian TV host and outspoken Iranian government critic who was the target last year of a U.S.-exposed plot by Iranian intelligence agents to kidnap her.
Masih Alinejad, an exiled Iranian journalist and women's rights advocate who hosts VOA's "Tablet" show on its Persian service, identified herself as the target in the New York incident.
On Sunday, she posted a video on Twitter of a man dressed in a dark shirt and shorts carrying a cellphone while pacing back and forth last week on the front porch of her home in New York's Brooklyn borough.
"These are the scary scenes capturing a man who tried to enter my house in New York," she said, adding that the man had a loaded gun, although none was visible. "Last year, the FBI stopped the Islamic Republic from kidnapping me. My crime is giving voice to voiceless people. The U.S. administration must be tough on terror."
In a statement, VOA said, "We are appalled at the news of the arrest of an armed individual outside her home. ... Our agency's security office was alerted, as is always the case when there are any active threats to any member of the VOA workforce, but understandably, we cannot provide any details on any specific safety or security measures being taken in conjunction with this matter."
It added, "However, we can report that despite this recent incident, Masih is preparing this week's program for airing at its normal time."
In a criminal complaint filed in New York on Friday, the FBI, the top U.S. criminal investigative agency, identified the suspect as Khalid Mehdiyev, with identification showing his home address in a New York suburb, Yonkers.
The complaint said he was observed by law enforcement officials on Wednesday and Thursday near a Brooklyn home that Alinejad later identified as hers. The criminal complaint said the suspect "behaved suspiciously" as he was watched, several times got into and out of a Subaru Forester SUV, ordered food and tried to look into the windows of the house.
He was arrested after he ran a stop sign and was found to be driving without a license, New York police said.
In searching his car, investigators said they found a loaded AK-47-style assault weapon in a suitcase on the rear seat. Authorities said the rifle's serial number appeared to have been scratched off but that markings indicated it was made by Norinco, a Chinese state-owned firearms manufacturer. They also said they found $1,100 in $100 bills.
The criminal complaint said that Mehdiyev initially said he did not know about the assault weapon and that the suitcase was not his. He said he had borrowed the car and placed his wallet and other personal items in the suitcase for "safekeeping."
He said he was in Brooklyn looking for a place to live, but later called investigators back and said the rifle was his and that he had been in the neighborhood because he was looking for someone.
Mehdiyev was charged with possession of a firearm with a destroyed serial number and detained without bond.
U.S. Representative Michael McCaul, the lead Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in a statement, "Reports that a man with a loaded gun was arrested outside of Masih Alinejad's home are bone-chilling. Ms. Alinejad is an American citizen. Why are we negotiating a nuclear deal with a regime that holds American citizens hostage and threatens American citizens on U.S. soil?"
McCaul said the administration of President Joe Biden "must make public if the Iranian regime was connected to this latest incident and take strong action to hold the regime accountable."
In last year's incident, Alinejad said FBI agents told her that Iran's Islamist rulers "not only wanted to make sure that I physically didn't exist anymore, they also wanted to destroy my Instagram, Facebook, Telegram and WhatsApp channels," in which she has criticized the theocratic regime and its treatment of women.
Alinejad received a human rights award in Geneva in 2015 for creating a Facebook page that urged women in Iran, where hijabs are mandatory, to post pictures of themselves without their headscarves.