(AP, ABC7) — A Syrian-born, naturalized U.S. citizen has been indicted on charges of spying on American activists opposed to the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad and providing audio and video recordings to that country's intelligence agents.
According to an indictment unsealed Wednesday, Mohamad Soueid of Leesburg, who was arrested Tuesday, was charged with acting in the U.S. as an unregistered agent of a foreign government.
According to the indictment, Soueid sent 20 recordings between April and June to Syrian's intelligence agency. They depict protests in this country against the Syrian regime, which has cracked down ruthlessly on anti-government protesters there.
The indictment also states that he traveled to Syria in June to meet with Assad personally. When Soueid returned, he was searched and questioned by authorities upon his return to Washington Dulles International Airport. Soueid informed his handler that he would have to change his procedures in the future as a result of the scrutiny, but that the he would continue his work on the "project."
Abby Shively and her husband bought the home on Somercote Lane in Leesburg that Swayd and his wife built in 2007. The foreclosed home has a four-car garage and stands on 13 acres.
“I was nervous to begin with buying a foreclosure because you don't know what the background story is,” Shively said.
“They seemed like really nice people. He was a high-end car salesman, used to sell Mercedes and some of these really high-end businesses and he ran into a little trouble. He was struggling as the economy took its downfall,’ neighbor Rob Skyler said.
Soueid, 47, also tried to recruit others to monitor anti-Assad rallies and protests in the U.S., according to the indictment.
Soueid is also charged with making false statements about his activities for the Mukhabarat, Syria's intelligence agency, when interviewed in August by the FBI.
"The ability to assemble and protest is a cherished right in the United States, and it's troubling that a U.S. citizen from Leesburg is accused of working with the Syrian government to identify and intimidate those who exercise that right," said U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia Neil MacBride, whose office is prosecuting the case. "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."
Soueid, who also goes by the names "Alex Soueid" and Anas Alswaid, was sued, along with Assad and others in the Syrian government, earlier this year in U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia by a group of Syrian-Americans who say they were victimized by the regime.
The lawsuit alleges that through Soueid's efforts, "the (Assad) regime learns the identities of Syrians based in the United States, who are trying to assist in the efforts to counteract the tactics of the (Assad) regime. He transmits such information to Damascus to initiate criminal conduct against the families of the identified Syrians."
Soueid's arrest came on the same day that the Justice Department announced charges against two men who allegedly were working with the Iranian government on a plot to assassinate Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the U.S. There does not appear to be any link between the two cases.
At the White House, National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor said, "this desperate effort to monitor protesters in the United States shows that the Assad regime is grasping for any means to silence those speaking out against their brutal crackdown on peaceful protesters."
The Syrian embassy issued a statement Wednesday denying that Mohamad Anas Haitham Soueid (SWAYD) is an agent for Syria or that he met personally with Assad.
It called the accusations "absolutely baseless and unacceptable."
A federal magistrate ordered Soueid held pending a detention hearing Friday after prosecutor Dennis Fitzpatrick said Soueid represents "a serious risk of flight."
Soueid wore a black fleece pullover and blue jeans. He said he had not yet had a chance to contact his attorney, but did not say who his attorney is. Court records do not list a defense attorney.