A Northern Virginia man has been accused of gathering information about people protesting the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and passing it along to Syrian intelligence officials.
Mohamad Anas Haitham Soueid, 47, of Leesburg sought to “undermine, silence, intimidate, and potentially harm” those protesting the Damascus regime and its crackdown on demonstrators, according to a grand jury indictment unsealed Wednesday. He is charged with acting as an agent for a foreign government, making false statements to federal agents and providing false residence information on a gun-purchase form.
The indictment accuses Soueid of working for the Syrian intelligence service, the Mukhabarat, since March by helping it collect audio and video recordings of people protesting in Syria and the United States.
“The allegations in the indictment are extremely troubling,” said Neil MacBride, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. “The ability to peaceably assemble and protest is one of the oldest rights in this country, and so the fact that you have an agent for Syrian intelligence who is working with the Syrian government to identify and intimidate U.S. citizens and others is an extremely serious allegation.”
During a brief hearing in Alexandria’s federal court, Assistant U.S. Attorney Dennis Fitizpatrick called Soueid, a Syrian-born naturalized U.S. citizen, “a serious risk of flight,” and a judge ordered Soueid held until a detention hearing Friday.
A National Security Council spokesman said that the allegations reveal a “desperate effort” by the Assad government to stifle protesters.
The indictment alleges that between April and June, Soueid e-mailed about 20 audio and video recordings of anti-government protests and conversations with protesters in the United States to a Syrian intelligence official. In April, he allegedly sent a coded message to the agent — identified in court papers as an unindicted co-conspirator — that described a meeting of protesters in Virginia.
In a written note to the Syrian official, Soueid wrote that “violence against protesters was justified, raiding homes of protesters was justified, and that any method should be used to deal with the protesters,” according to the indictment. More than 2,900 people have died in clashes with Assad’s government in six months of protests.
In June, the indictment alleges, Soueid went to Syria and met privately with Assad, and he later sent the intelligence operative a photograph of him speaking with the Syrian leader.
Soueid spoke little during his court hearing. He said he didn’t have an attorney.
It is not the first time Soueid has been the focus of court action: In May, six Syrian and American citizens filed a federal lawsuit accusing Syrian officials of human rights abuses.
The suit says that Soueid, identified in that case by an alias that is also cited in the indictment, “is an integral part of the criminal conspiracy to torture, maim, and kill Syrians” by transmitting information about protesters to Syrian officials.
“Without his input, the Syrian officials wouldn’t know whom to retaliate against,” said Martin McMahon, an attorney for those suing Syria.
Staff writers Jason Ukman and Scott Wilson contributed to this report.