The Syrian embassy in Washington denies that Soueid worked for the Syrian government [Reuters]
A Syrian-born US citizen has been arrested and charged in Virginia with spying on anti-Syrian government protesters in the US and passing details on to Syria.
US prosecutors said on Wednesday that Mohamad Anas Haitham Soueid was accused of acting as an agent of the Syrian intelligence service and collecting video and audio recordings of protesters against the rule of President Bashar al-Assad.
Soueid, 47, was also accused of recruiting others to collect information about protesters and sending materials to the Syrian embassy in Washington and to Damascus.
In June, he flew to Syria where he met Assad in a group and also spoke with him privately, the 15-page indictment said.
The charges did not reveal how Soueid’s alleged activities became known to US authorities.
The Syrian embassy in Washington issued a lengthy denial, saying that Soueid did not work for the Syrian government, never met Assad, was never paid by Syria and had not provided any information about protesters in the US.
He was arrested on Tuesday on charges of acting as an unregistered foreign agent operating in the US, conspiracy, making false statements to FBI agents and lying on forms he filled out while buying a .40 calibre pistol.
“The ability to assemble and protest is a cherished right in the United States,” Neil MacBride, the US attorney, said in a statement.
Soueid, who lives in Leesburg, Virginia, outside Washington DC, appeared briefly in the federal court where a judge ordered him held pending a detention hearing slated for Friday.
He had not yet retained a lawyer, according to prosecutors.
The state department had previously complained about harassment of Syrians in the US, Victoria Nuland, a spokeswoman for the department, said.
“You see here the first fruits of the FBI’s investigation,” she said.
Earlier this month, Amnesty International, the London-based rights watchdog, released a report detailing the Syrian intelligence’s activities in North America, Europe and Latin America.
The group documented more than 30 cases of expatriates being targeted by Syrian security forces, who employ surveillance and open threats in an effort to maintain control over anti-government activists living overseas.