Ex-Twitter employees charged with spying for Saudi Arabia

Former Twitter employees charged with spying for Saudi Arabia by digging into the accounts of the kingdom's critics.

Iran PressMiddle East: The charges, unsealed on Wednesday in San Francisco, California, allege that Saudi agents sought personal information about Twitter users including known critics of the Saudi government.

Court documents named the two as Ahmad Abouammo, a US citizen, and Ali Alzabarah, from Saudi Arabia. A third person, Saudi citizen Ahmed Almutairi, is also accused of spying.

The New York Times says it is the first time that Saudi citizens have been charged with spying inside the United States.

One of those implicated in the scheme, according to court papers, is an associate of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, who the CIA has concluded likely ordered the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul last year.

One of Abouammo's targets was referred to in the complaint as “Twitter User 1,” a “prominent critic” of the Saudi kingdom and royal family with more than 1 million followers.

The description matches the account of @Mujtahidd, the Twitter handle for an anonymous person whose disclosures about corruption in the Saudi leadership have angered officials in Riyadh. 

Alzabarah, a former Twitter engineer, is accused of accessing the personal data of more than 6,000 Twitter users in 2015 after being recruited by Saudi agents.

Alzabarah was hired by Twitter in August 2013 as a site reliability engineer. His work as a Saudi agent began in May 2015, the complaint alleges. By then, he was an employee of the Saudi royal court and had become director of Mohammad Bin Salman’s private office.

He was confronted by his supervisors and placed on administrative leave before fleeing to Saudi Arabia with his wife and daughter, investigators said.


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