2 ex-Twitter staff face US charges for spying for Saudi Arabia

Two former employees of Twitter Ali Alzabarah and Ahmad Abouammo and a third person from Saudi Arabia are facing U.S. charges of spying for the kingdom in exchange for payment.

A third man who is their accomplice was identified as Ahmed Almutari, a staff of the Saudi royal family.

Alzabarah and Abouammo and the Saudi link face charges of working for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia without registering as foreign agents, according to a complaint filed against them.

Abouammo repeatedly accessed the Twitter account of a prominent critic of the Saudi royal family in early 2015. At one instance, he was able to view the email address and telephone number associated with the account. He also accessed the account of a second Saudi critic to get personally identifiable information.

“This information could have been used to identify and locate the Twitter users who published these posts,” the Justice Department said in a news release.

Saudi Arabia, a key U.S. ally in confronting Iran, has faced intense Western criticism over its human rights record, including over last year’s murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and its involvement in the devastating war in Yemen.

Almutairi, for his part, is accused of acting as a go-between for the Saudi government and the Twitter employees.

Abouammo is under arrest in Seattle, Washington while the other two are in Saudi Arabia, the department said.

The two men were given cash and other rewards, such as an expensive watch, for the information, the complaint said.

The Saudi embassy did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Twitter said that it was grateful to the FBI and U.S. Justice Department. “We recognize the lengths bad actors will go to try and undermine our service,” it said in a statement.

“We understand the incredible risks faced by many who use Twitter to share their perspectives with the world and to hold those in power accountable

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