A judge on Tuesday agreed to let an accused Syrian spy serve home detention while he awaits trial, despite vigorous government objections that the man is a flight risk and a danger.
Mohamad Soueid, 47, of Leesburg, was arrested last week on charges that he illegally monitored the activities of Syrian dissidents in the U.S. who oppose the regime of President Bashar Assad. The Assad government has been brutally suppressing a popular uprising in the country over the past several months.
Also on Tuesday, Soueid's lawyer he misspoke when he said in court on Monday that Soueid traveled to Syria as part of a delegation led by Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio.
The magistrate judge's ruling in U.S. District Court does not mean that Soueid will immediately go free. Prosecutors gave immediate notice of their plans to appeal, and the magistrate delayed implementing his order so that a district court judge can make a final decision.
U.S. Magistrate Judge T. Rawles Jones also expressed doubts about the significance of the government's case, saying that at worst Soueid is "the lowest of low-level operatives."
"There is no evidence that he is a trained operative," Jones said.
During a hearing Monday, Faraj had told the judge in court and reporters outside the courthouse that Soueid was a member of Kucinich's fact-finding mission to Syria. Kucinich immediately denied it, and said he doesn't know Soueid.
"I do not know who he is. Whoever he is, it sounds like he has a serious problem with the truth," Kucinich said Monday in a statement.
Prosecutors also said Tuesday that Soueid was not part of that delegation, which Faraj confirmed.
Prosecutors, meanwhile, asserted in Tuesday's hearing that Soueid is a skilled Syrian operative who could easily flee the country despite a requirement that he submit to electronic monitoring while on home detention.
Prosecutor Dennis Fitzpatrick said Soueid has been caught in multiple lies, denying to the FBI that he met with Syrian officials even when they had photographic evidence of Soueid shaking hands with Assad.
Fitzpatrick said the surveillance conducted by Soueid is a real danger to the dissidents who are monitored, because the Syrian government regularly exacts revenge on its opponents and subjects them to intimidation.
"I think we need to assume he is an arm of that government," Fitzpatrick said.
Faraj, meanwhile, argued that it's ludicrous to think that Soueid's alleged activities, which consisted primarily of videotaping and recording anti-Assad protests in the U.S., would be of any value to Syrian intelligence. Such videos are readily available on YouTube, Faraj said, so the Syrian government would not need to send one of its spies out to retrieve the same information.
Prosecutors also presented testimony from FBI agent Rick Evanchec, who said a confidential source in the Syrian embassy reported that Soueid received a payment from the embassy in August.
Faraj said the allegation comes from a paid FBI informant and is unreliable.
Faraj acknowledged Tuesday that Soueid has generally positive views about the Assad regime, but said that doesn't equate to him being an agent for Syrian intelligence.