The Indianpost

FBI probes threats against Syrians in US: dissidents

The FBI is investigating allegations that Syria is intimidating or threatening dissidents abroad, according to US-based Syrians who say federal agents have questioned them.

Three dissidents who met with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton here two weeks ago told AFP that FBI agents raised concerns about their welfare and asked who might be behind the campaign.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation declined to comment. “We just don?t comment on our investigations,” a spokesperson said.

Syrian Marah Bukai said she received a death threat via email from an unknown individual two days after she and fellow dissidents Radwan Ziadeh and Mohammed Alabdalla met with Clinton at the State Department on August 2.

Bukai told AFP that the FBI is investigating the email, which she said was re-sent to her Monday.

The individual, she said, is “using very low-class language and telling me that he’s going to kill me and he said he was in the United States and now he’s in Canada and surely he’s going to go back to the United States to kill me.”

All three dissidents said Syrian state television has run their photograph with Clinton and called them US agents or traitors.

The State Department last month summoned Syrian ambassador Imad Mustapha for talks after reports that embassy staff had filmed US protests against the crackdown in Syria.

The department also said it was investigating reports the Syrian government “has sought retribution against Syrian family members for the actions of their relatives in the United States exercising their lawful rights in this country.”

However, FBI involvement would raise the matter to a criminal level.

Ziadeh, who is based in Washington, told AFP he suspected the Syrian embassy in Washington is behind the campaign in the United States to intimidate him and others.

After he joined fellow Syrians in a small protest in March outside the Syrian embassy here, he responded to a Syrian diplomat’s invitation to enter the mission for a talk where staff ended up taking photographs of him.

“We know actually the Syrian embassy, the only task they are doing right now, it’s actually reporting the activists in the United States to the security-intelligence in Syria,” he said.

For example, his mother in Syria warned him that security officials told her “you have to tell your son to be quiet” or they will “put us under pressure,” he said.

“I’m worried actually if they can arrest one of my brothers or even …my mother,” Ziadeh said by telephone during a visit to UN offices in Geneva.

He said that on Monday he received for the first time a threat to his own safety through a message on Facebook he suspects came from someone linked to the embassy because it referred to an embassy protest he attended on Friday.

Ziadeh said the message read along the lines of “you are demonstrating in front of the embassy. You are only ten (people), and you are a dog… If you continue… we will do other things with you.”

He said the FBI questioned him two months ago and then again two weeks ago to find out who in the embassy might be involved in spying on activists and threatening them.

Alabdalla, a Washington-based spokesman for the Local Coordinating Committees in Syria, told AFP that an FBI agent asked him “if I feel intimidated or threatened.”

Alabdalla said that because of his activism here he has received emails and Facebook messages from “pro-government people around the world” that he says amount to insults rather than intimidation.

The messages call him a “traitor,” a CIA agent, or Jewish community supporter who is encouraging a military invasion of Syria.

The Wall Street Journal reported earlier that Syrian diplomats are intimidating expatriates who speak out against the regime, and reporting back home where dissidents’ relatives are then threatened and arrested.

The Obama administration told the Journal it had “credible” evidence that the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is using the reports from its embassies abroad to target relatives of those living overseas, particularly Syrian-Americans who have joined peaceful US protests.

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