FBI probes threats against Syrians in US

The FBI is investigating allegations that Syria is intimidating and threatening dissidents in the United States, according to US-based Syrians who say federal agents have questioned them.

world Updated: Aug 18, 2011 11:50 IST

The FBI is investigating allegations that Syria is intimidating and threatening dissidents in the United States, 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 safety 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 on 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."

The regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is under mounting global pressure to end its crackdown on a months-long pro-democracy uprising, but has remained defiant. Rights groups say nearly 2,250 people have been killed in the crackdown.

Bukai said she has already paid the price of a brutal regime: She missed her mother's funeral because her family never told her she died of a heart attack in 2008 for fear she would be arrested returning home to pay her last respects.

All three dissidents said Syrian state television has shown 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.

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 here 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 embassy, 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 which 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 10 (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 and threatening activists.

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.

First Published: Aug 18, 2011 11:48 IST