Federal prosecutors have released a photograph that they say proves a Northern Virginia man met this summer with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad — just a few months before the U.S. citizen was arrested on charges of gathering information about anti-Assad protesters and providing it to Syrian intelligence.
The photo was introduced as evidence in Alexandria’s federal court Monday during a hearing in which prosecutors urged a judge to detain Mohamad Anas Haitham Soueid, 47, on charges of acting as an agent for a foreign government and making false statements. The photo’s release came days after the Syrian Embassy in Washington said it was “ludicrous” for prosecutors to claim that Soueid met privately with Assad.
Soueid, a Syrian-born naturalized citizen, has been detained since his arrest last week. Prosecutors say the Leesburg resident collected videos of people demonstrating against the Damascus government and sent the recordings to a Syrian intelligence agent.
More than 3,000 people have died in clashes with Assad’s government in six months of protests.
Prosecutors say that Soueid started helping Syrian intelligence in March and three months later visited Syria, where he met privately with Assad. The photograph released by prosecutors Monday shows the two men shaking hands.
Soueid’s lawyers argue he should be released pending trial. According to the Associated Press, Soueid’s attorney, Haytham Faraj, argued in court that his client has contacts with the Syrian Embassy and is a prominent member of the Syrian-American community. Faraj said the June trip to Syria was part of a congressional delegation led by Rep. Dennis Kucinich.
Kucinich’s office, however, refuted those claims. A spokesman for the Ohio Democrat issued a statement denying that Soueid was part of the delegation.
“I do not know who he is,” Kucinich said in the statement. “Whoever he is, it sounds like he has a serious problem with the truth. If in fact, he has spied upon U.S. citizens on behalf of the Syrian government that will have immediate consequences for the Assad regime.”
Last week, the Syrian Embassy issued a statement that called the Justice Department’s allegations in the indictment against Soueid “baseless and totally unacceptable.”
Soueid’s detention hearing was to be continued Tuesday.