(Updates with Syrian embassy statement in fourth paragraph.)
Oct. 12 (Bloomberg) -- A Syrian immigrant living in the Washington suburbs was accused of spying on U.S.-based dissidents for his native country’s secret police and charged with failing to register as a foreign agent.
Mohamad Anas Haitham Soueid, 47, was arrested yesterday on six charges alleging he conspired to collect video and audio recordings of people in the U.S. and Syria who have protested against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Soueid, of Leesburg, Virginia, provided the materials to Syrian intelligence agencies, according to his indictment.
“Spying for another country is a serious threat to our national security, especially when it threatens the ability of U.S. citizens to engage in political speech within our own borders,” U.S. Attorney Neil MacBride of Alexandria, Virginia, said in a statement.
The Syrian embassy in Washington said “neither Mr. Soueid nor any other citizen of the U.S. is an agent of the Syrian government” in an e-mail statement.
“The accusation that a U.S. citizen is working with the Syrian government to intimidate U.S. citizens is absolutely baseless and totally unacceptable,” said the Syrian embassy statement.
As part of the conspiracy, Soueid allegedly recruited others in the U.S. to help collect information on the protesters.
From April 2 until June 10, Soueid e-mailed a co- conspirator working for Syria’s intelligence agency 20 audio and video recordings of rallies or meetings of protesters, including one held in Alexandria, the indictment alleges. Soueid also allegedly collected the phone numbers and e-mail addresses of the protesters.
On June 22, Soueid traveled to Syria where he met with intelligence officials and spoke with al-Assad in private, according to the indictment.
Soueid and others conspired to use the information to “undermine, silence, intimidate and potentially harm persons in the United States and Syria,” the indictment alleges.
The charges against Soueid include conspiring to act and acting as an agent of the Syrian government without notifying the attorney general, two counts of providing false statements on a firearms purchase form and two counts of making false statements to federal law enforcement officials.
Soueid is scheduled to appear in U.S. District Court in Alexandria today. If convicted, he faces as long as 15 years in prison on the conspiracy and firearms charges and 10 years on the false statement charges.
Soueid is also included as a defendant in a civil suit filed in May in U.S. District Court in Washington by six Syrian natives who claim that they or their family members were subject to abuse by the Syrian government. No lawyer is listed for Souied in the civil case and no attorney has appeared yet in the criminal one. Efforts to find a telephone number for him were unsuccessful.
In that case, Soueid, identified by a purported alias, Anas Alswaid, is described as being as “an integral part of the criminal conspiracy to torture, maim, and kill Syrians,” according to the plaintiffs’ May 10 complaint.
“Through his efforts, the al-Assad regime learns the identities of Syrians based in the United States, who are trying to assist in efforts to counteract the tactics of the al-Assad regime,” the lawsuit alleges. “He transmits such information to Damascus to initiate criminal conduct against the families of the identified Syrians.”
The criminal case is U.S. v. Soueid, 11-494, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Virginia (Alexandria). The civil case is Aziz v. The Syrian Arab Republic, 11-00876, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington).
--With assistance from Seth Stern in Washington. Editors: Fred Strasser, Glenn Holdcraft
To contact the reporter on this story: Tom Schoenberg in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at email@example.com.