Five Chinese agents accused of targeting dissidents in the US have been arrested by the FBI, the Justice Department said Wednesday.

The agency said in a statement in federal court in New York that eight defendants were charged with conspiring to act in the US as illegal agents of the People’s Republic of China (PRC).

The agents were said to be acting at the direction of the Chinese government and “engaged in a campaign to harass, stalk, and coerce certain residents of the United States to return to the PRC as part of a global, concerted, and extralegal repatriation effort known as ‘Operation Fox Hunt.’”

Zhu Yong, Hongru Jin and Michael McMahon were arrested Wednesday and will be arraigned via teleconference before US Magistrate Judge Peggy Kuo.

Rong Jing and Zheng Congying were arrested in the Central District of California. Their initial appearances will take place in that district later Wednesday.

Zhu Feng, Hu Ji and Li Minjun remain at large.

Assistant Attorney General for National Security John Demers said the accused face the prospect of prison.

“For those charged in China and others engaged in this type of conduct, our message is clear: stay out. This behavior is not welcome here,” said Demers.

FBI Director Christopher Wray vowed to investigate actions by China he called “an affront to” the US’s ideals of freedom, human rights and the rule of law.

“The Chinese government’s brazen attempts to surveil, threaten, and harass our own citizens and lawful permanent residents, while on American soil, are part of China’s diverse campaign of theft and malign influence in our country and around the world,” said Wray. 

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