ALEXANDRIA, Va. – A Virginia man was sentenced Friday to 18 months in prison after admitting he spied on U.S.-based Syrian dissidents while working with the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Mohamad Soueid, 48, of Leesburg, pleaded guilty earlier this year to acting as an unregistered foreign agent of the Syrian government. But his guilty plea had been under seal until Friday, when he was sentenced in federal court in Alexandria.
Court papers show Soueid, a car dealer who also went by the name of Alex Soueid, admitted sending video and audio recordings of Syrian dissidents to members of the Syrian intelligence agency, the Mukhabarat. He also personally discussed dissident activity in the U.S. with Assad in a private meeting in Syria last year. An associate of Assad gave Soueid a $6,000 Hablut watch at that meeting.
When Soueid was first charged in October, officials at the Syrian embassy denied Soueid was an agent for them or that he personally met with Assad, despite a photo showing the two shaking hands. At the time it called the accusation “absolutely baseless and totally unacceptable.” A call and emails Friday to the embassy seeking comment were not immediately returned.
Soueid’s attorney, federal public defender Michael Nachmanoff, said the sentence was a fair one. The 18-month term was much shorter than the six-year term sought by the government.
“Mr. Soueid was motivated by a fear of Islamic extremism, and that is a real threat” as various groups battle for control in what is increasingly viewed as a civil war against Assad’s secular regime. “This is a guy who believed, and still believes, that having Islamic extremists taking over is bad for Syria and bad for the U.S.”