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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Syria's embassy personnel intimidating protesters

Last month I quoted a chilling Al Arabiya article about how the Syrian embassy in the US was threatening Syrian  anti-regime protesters by photographing and identifying them and then threatening their families back home.

The Wall Street Journal (via Fox News) reports on this as well:
Syria is taking its war against President Bashar al-Assad's political opponents global, using diplomats in Washington, London and elsewhere to track and intimidate expatriates who speak out against the Damascus regime, according to Syrian dissidents and U.S. officials.

Syrian embassy staffers are tracking and photographing antiregime protesters and sending reports back home, Syrian activists and U.S. officials say. Syrian diplomats, including the ambassador to the U.S., have fanned out to Arab diaspora communities to brand dissidents "traitors" and warn them against conspiring with "Zionists."

A half-dozen Syrian-Americans interviewed by The Wall Street Journal in recent weeks say that as a result of their activities in the U.S., family members have been interrogated, threatened or arrested in Syria. The Obama administration says it has "credible" evidence that the Assad regime is targeting relatives of Syrian-Americans who have participated in peaceful U.S. protests.

In an interview Tuesday, Imad Moustapha, the Syrian ambassador, dismissed the allegations by Syrian dissidents and U.S. officials as "slander and sheer lies."

One Syrian-American scientist in Philadelphia, Hazem Hallak, said his physician brother, Sakher, was tortured and killed in May by Syria's intelligence agencies, the mukhabarat, after he returned from a medical conference in the U.S. Syrian agents in Aleppo were obsessed with obtaining a list of Syrian activists and U.S. officials the brother had allegedly met during his stay, Hazem Hallak said.

"They want to intimidate us wherever we are," said Mr. Hallak, who said he believes Syrian agents or regime sympathizers tracked his brother inside the U.S. Mr. Hallak said his brother wasn't involved in anti-Assad activities.

The State Department recently publicly rebuked the Syrian ambassador, Mr. Moustapha, for allegedly intimidating activists and confined him to a 25-mile radius around Washington.
"We received reports that Syrian mission personnel under Ambassador Moustapha's authority have been conducting video and photographic surveillance of people participating in peaceful demonstrations in the United States," the State Department said. "The United States Government takes very seriously reports of any foreign government actions attempting to intimidate individuals in the United States who are exercising their lawful right to freedom of speech as protected by the U.S. Constitution."

The Federal Bureau of Investigation, meanwhile, is investigating allegations that Mr. Moustapha and his staff have threatened or harmed Syrian-Americans, according to three individuals interviewed by the FBI in recent weeks. An FBI spokesman said the bureau won't comment on any possible investigation into the Syrian embassy's activities.
Jennifer Rubin discusses this in more detail.

Meanwhile, Tunisia has recalled its ambassador to Syria.

Syrian troops are breaking into private homes in Latakia.

Some UN employees fled the country.

The next clampdown may be the Yarmouk PalArab camp in Damascus where electricity has been cut off. Another Arab leader is turning against his Palestinian "guests.