WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A Syrian-born man has been arrested and charged in Virginia for allegedly spying on anti-Syrian protesters in the United States and passing that information on to Damascus, U.S. prosecutors said on Wednesday.
Mohamad Anas Haitham Soueid, 47, a naturalized U.S. citizen, was accused of acting as an agent of the Syrian intelligence service and collecting video and audio recordings of protesters against Syria and its president Bashar al-Assad.
Soueid also was accused of recruiting others to collect information about protesters and sending materials to a contact at the Syrian embassy in Washington and to Damascus, according to an indictment unsealed on Wednesday.
In June, he flew to Syria where he met Assad and spoke with him privately, the indictment said.
He was arrested on Tuesday on charges of spying, conspiracy, making false statements including related to the purchase of a .40 caliber pistol. He is due to make an initial appearance later on Wednesday.
It was not immediately certain whether he had an attorney.
According to the indictment, Soueid sent a coded message in April to the Syrian intelligence service via email that described a meeting of protesters in a Virginia suburb of Washington.
He also sent contact information including phone numbers and email addresses of the protesters, the charging document said.
The United States has imposed several rounds of sanctions on Assad and his government since the start of the crackdown that the United Nations estimates has killed at least 2,700 people.
Last week, the U.S. State Department accused Syria of escalating its intimidation against prominent opposition leaders protesting for months against autocratic rule under Assad for 11 years and three decades before that under his father.
(Reporting by Jeremy Pelofsky in Washington, editing by Philip Barbara)