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Four Iranians have been charged with plotting to kidnap a New York-based journalist and human rights activist critical of Iran and take her back to Tehran, the US Department of Justice says.

Court papers did not name the target, but Iranian-American journalist Masih Alinejad said it was her.

Authorities said the accused – alleged intelligence officials – also plotted to lure a person in the UK and three others in Canada to Iran.

Ms Alinejad, who became a US citizen in October 2019, said she had been working with the Federal Bureau of Investigation since the agency approached her eight months ago with photographs taken by the plotters.

“They showed me the Islamic Republic had gotten very close,” she said.

Her White Wednesday and My Stealthy Freedom campaigns have seen women film themselves without head coverings or hijabs in public in Iran, and she has also contributed to the US government-funded Voice of America Persian language service.

FBI agents warned the writer she was being watched earlier this year and moved her and her husband to several safe houses as they investigated the case, she said.

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They even asked the 44-year-old to conduct a live video online to see if Iranian intelligence could track her.

The four defendants hired private investigators under false pretences to carry out surveillance on the journalist in Brooklyn, filming her family and home, according to prosecutors.

Masih Alinejad
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The writer and human rights activist has been critical of Iran

They claimed she was a missing person from Dubai who had fled the country to avoid paying a debt, it is alleged.

They planned “to forcibly take their intended victim to Iran, where the victim’s fate would have been uncertain at best”, said Audrey Strauss, attorney for the Southern District of New York.

It is alleged they had even researched getting her out of Manhattan on a high-speed boat headed for Caracas, Venezuela.

“Every person in the United States must be free from harassment, threats and physical harm by foreign powers,” Acting US Assistant Attorney General Mark J Lesko added.

“Through this indictment, we bring to light one such pernicious plot to harm an American citizen who was exercising their First Amendment rights.”

Ms Alinejad said Iranian operatives had tried several times to trick her into going to Turkey with threats and promises to meet family.

“I knew that this is the nature of the Islamic Republic, you know, kidnapping people, arresting people, torturing people, killing people. But I couldn’t believe it that this is going to happen to me in United States of America,” she said.

She added the alleged plot wouldn’t stop her from doing her work: “I have only one life and I’m not going to live in paranoia. I’m not going to live in fear. I have two options – feel miserable, make my oppressors feel miserable, so I choose the second one.”

William F Sweeney Jr, head of New York’s FBI office, noted that the indictment sounded a bit like “some far-fetched movie plot”.

“We allege a group, backed by the Iranian government, conspired to kidnap a US-based journalist here on our soil and forcibly return her to Iran,” he said.

“Not on our watch.”

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Crucial $60.8bn Ukraine aid package approved by US House of Representatives after months of deadlock

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Crucial .8bn Ukraine aid package approved by US House of Representatives after months of deadlock

The US House of Representatives has approved sending $60.8bn (£49bn) in foreign aid to Ukraine.

Democrats and Republicans joined together after months of deadlock over renewed American support to help Ukraine fend off Russia’s invasion.

Representatives could be seen waving small Ukrainian flags as it became clear the package was going to pass.

Representatives wave Ukrainian flags
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Representatives wave Ukrainian flags

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy tweeted to say he was “grateful” for the decision, which he said “keeps history on the right track”.

He said: “Democracy and freedom will always have global significance and will never fail as long as America helps to protect it.

“The vital US aid bill passed today by the House will keep the war from expanding, save thousands and thousands of lives, and help both of our nations to become stronger.”

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‘Grateful’ Zelenskyy reacts to US aid

Representatives also approved bills to send foreign aid to Israel and provide humanitarian relief to Palestinians in Gaza, give security assistance to Taiwan and allies in the Indo-Pacific, and a measure containing several foreign policy proposals including a threat to ban Chinese-owned social media app TikTok.

The package will now go to the US Senate, where it is likely to be passed on Tuesday. President Joe Biden has then promised to sign it immediately.

“I urge the Senate to quickly send this package to my desk so that I can sign it into law and we can quickly send weapons and equipment to Ukraine to meet their urgent battlefield needs,” Mr Biden said.

What aid package means for Ukraine after profound impact of delay

The impact of this American blockage has been profound.

I have had multiple conversations with diplomats and military officials in Washington DC and all have said the same thing: the situation for Ukraine is depressing, Russia has the upper hand and prospects for Kyiv, without more weapons, are bleak.

The Ukrainians have been running low on all weapons types, even small arms – bullets for their soldiers’ rifles.

Before the House of Representatives approved the $60.8bn aid package on Saturday, it had been more than 480 days since Congress last passed a bill allowing for American weapons to be sent to Ukraine.

There was a White House budgetary fudge earlier this year which freed up some more cash from an existing bill and allowed for some more weapons to be sent. But it wasn’t enough.

Read more of Mark Stone’s analysis here.

Bill will ‘further ruin’ Ukraine, Russia warns

Moscow said the passage of the bill would “further ruin” Ukraine and result in more deaths.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told the TASS news agency a provision allowing Washington to confiscate seized Russian assets and transfer them to Ukraine for reconstruction would tarnish the image of the US.

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Major Russian strike on Ukraine kills eight

‘Ukraine can and will win’

UK Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron said the funding was “a vital step forward”.

“If Putin ever doubted the West’s resolve to back Ukraine, this shows our collective will is undimmed,” he tweeted.

“With support, Ukraine can and will win.”

But Donald Trump ally Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Republican representative who has opposed helping Ukraine in its war against Russia, said “people have been too obsessed with voting for foreign wars and the war industry”.

Speaking after the vote passed, she said: “This is the sellout of America today. When we had members of Congress in there waving the Ukrainian flag on the United States House of Representatives floor, while we’re doing nothing to secure our border, I think every American is going to be furious.”

Mr Biden first requested the funding in October, as Ukraine’s military supplies began to dwindle.

In February, Mr Zelenskyy urged Congress to pass the funding, saying if it did not “it will leave me wondering what world we are living in”.

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TikTok could be banned in US after House of Representatives passes bill

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TikTok could be banned in US after House of Representatives passes bill

TikTok could be banned in the US if the social media app’s Chinese owner doesn’t sell its stake after the House of Representatives voted in support of the measure.

The TikTok legislation has been included in a US foreign policy package, which has already seen representatives approve sending $60.8bn (£49bn) in foreign aid to Ukraine, security assistance for Taiwan and allies in the Indo-Pacific, and will likely see the approval of foreign aid funding for Ukraine and Israel.

Once approved, the package will then go to the US Senate, where it is likely to be passed on Tuesday. President Joe Biden has said he would sign the TikTok legislation once it reaches his desk.

If the bill becomes law, the owner of the popular video-sharing app will have nine months to find a buyer, with a possible three-month extension while a sale is in progress, or face a ban.

A previous bill passed by the House last month would have given owner ByteDance only six months to sell.

The company will likely try to challenge the law in court, arguing it would deprive the app’s millions of users of their First Amendment rights, which protect freedom of speech.

Such court challenges could significantly delay the timeline set out by Congress or block the law from coming into effect.

TikTok’s chief executive has appealed to US users directly to campaign to stop the bill.

“We will not stop fighting and advocating for you,” Shou Zi Chew said in a video posted on the platform last month that was directed at the app’s users.

“We will continue to do all we can, including exercising our legal rights, to protect this amazing platform that we have built with you.”

The FBI has warned TikTok owner ByteDance could share user data, such as browsing history, location and biometric identifiers, with China’s authoritarian government.

TikTok has said it has never done that and would not do so if asked.

Read more on Sky News:
Home Office to pay TikTok influencers urging migrants not to cross Channel
How ‘TikTok idiots’ are disrupting police investigations

In 2022, Mr Biden banned the use of TikTok by the federal government’s nearly four million employees on devices owned by its agencies, with limited exceptions for law enforcement, national security and security research purposes.

The approved bill including the TikTok legislation would also allow the US to seize frozen Russian central bank assets to help rebuild Ukraine and impose sanctions on Iran, Russia and China, as well as criminal organisations that traffic the drug fentanyl.

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Crucial $60.8bn Ukraine aid package approved by US House of Representatives after months of deadlock

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Iran grounds flights across country after reports of explosions

The US House of Representatives has approved sending $60.8bn (£49bn) in foreign aid to Ukraine.

Democrats and Republicans joined together after months of deadlock over renewed American support to help Ukraine fend off Russia’s invasion.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy tweeted to say he was “grateful” for the decision, which he said “keeps history on the right track”.

He said: “Democracy and freedom will always have global significance and will never fail as long as America helps to protect it.

“The vital US aid bill passed today by the House will keep the war from expanding, save thousands and thousands of lives, and help both of our nations to become stronger.”

US President Joe Biden first requested the funding in October, as Ukraine’s military supplies began to dwindle.

In February, Mr Zelenskyy urged Congress to pass the funding, saying if it did not “it will leave me wondering what world we are living in”.

Representatives also approved a bill providing security assistance to Taiwan and other allies in the Indo-Pacfic, as well as a bill containing several foreign policy proposals including a threat to ban Chinese-owned social media app TikTok.

It will vote on one further bill to send money to Israel.

Once approved, the package will go to the US Senate, where it is likely to be passed on Tuesday. Mr Biden has then promised to sign it immediately.

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