Bond stayed for ex-Twitter employee accused of spying for Saudi Arabia

SEATTLE, Nov 8 (Reuters) – A ruling by a U.S. judge granting
bond on Friday to a former Twitter TWTR.N employee accused of
spying for Saudi Arabia was stayed after U.S. prosecutors said
they appealed the decision.

Magistrate Judge Paula McCandlis, of the U.S. District Court
in Seattle, granted Ahmad Abouammo, 41, bond with travel
restrictions while he awaited trial. But the ruling was stayed
after prosecutors lodged an appeal, a spokeswoman for the U.S.
attorney’s office for the Western District of Washington said in
an email.

Abouammo’ lawyer, Chris Black, earlier said that an appeal
would mean his client would remain in detention until a District
Court judge made a ruling on McCandlis’ decision.

Abouammo was arrested on Tuesday and indicted on spying
charges the next day, along with Ali Alzabarah, 35, another
former Twitter employer, and Ahmed Almutairi, 30, who worked for
the Saudi royal family.

The indictment points a public finger at Saudi Arabia, a
U.S. ally with warm ties to President Donald Trump despite what
Amnesty International calls its restrictions on human rights and
the “extrajudicial killing” of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

The charges put Silicon Valley companies in the spotlight
over how they protect user information, including from employees
with no reason for accessing the data.

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

Twitter uncovered Alzabarah’s unauthorized access of private
data and placed him on administrative leave in late 2015, but
not before he had tapped data from over 6,000 accounts, 33 of
which Saudi authorities submitted law enforcement requests on,
the complaint said.

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

Assistant U.S. Attorney Todd Greenberg told the court that
Abouammo, a dual citizen of the United States and Lebanon,
presented a flight risk due to large sums of money he had access
to from the alleged co-conspirators.

Black, the defense lawyer, said Abouammo, a Seattle
resident, no longer had ties to the other two men and he should
be allowed to live at home for the wellbeing of his family.

In a letter presented to the court, Abouammo’s wife, Zeina,
said he homeschooled their children, who suffered from
depression and anxiety after being bullied at school.

Arrest warrants have been issued for Alzabarah and
Almutairi, who are believed to be in Saudia Arabia.

Associated Links

  • Amnesty
  • Twitter
  • Seattle
  • Puget Sound region
  • News media