US arrests two Iranians who spied on dissidents

The two men also surveilled Jewish centres

FILE PHOTO: A view from the U.S. Senate side shows the U.S. Capitol Dome (L) in Washington, U.S., October 4, 2013.   REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo
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Two Iranians accused of collecting information on opponents of Tehran and took covert pictures of Jewish institutions in the United States were charged Monday with spying for Tehran.

The Justice Department unsealed charges against Iranian-US dual citizen Mohammadi Doostdar and Majid Ghorbani, an Iranian resident of California, alleging they worked together on surveillance of the Jewish sites and aimed to penetrate the militant Iranian opposition Mujahedin-e Khalq, also known as the People's Mujahedin of Iran or MEK.
The two were arrested on August 9 but the charges were not unsealed by a Washington court until Monday.

“This alleged activity demonstrates [Iran’s] continued interest in targeting the United States, as well as potential opposition groups located in the United States,” Acting Executive Assistant Director McGarrity said in a Justice Department statement.

They said that Mr Doostdar, 38, who resides in Iran, travelled to Chicago in July 2017 where agents watched him take pictures of Hillel Center and Rohr Chabad House, both ultraorthodox Jewish community centres, near the University of Chicago.

The indictment did not explain why he took the pictures but it said the images included shots of security features.


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He then travelled to California where he met Mr Ghorbani, apparently for the first time, according to the indictment.

Two months later Mr Ghorbani, 59, flew to New York for one day where he attended an MEK rally and took photographs of people in attendance.

Then in December, Mr Doostdar travelled back to California to get the MEK information. In conversations between the pair, recorded by the FBI, Mr Ghorbani mentioned trying to "penetrate" the group while Mr Doostdar spoke of being directed by others to collect the information.

"I will give it to the guys to do their research," he said of the photographs.

The indictment says he paid $2,000 (Dh7,345) to Mr Ghorbani in their meetings.

The photos, many with handwritten notes about the participants, were found in Mr Ghorbani’s luggage at a US airport as he was returning to Iran in December 2017, the Justice Department said.

In March and April this year, Mr Ghorbani went to Iran where, according to the indictment, he conducted “in-person briefings” with Iranian government officials on his information on MEK and received a list of "taskings" for infiltrating the dissident group.

In May, Mr Ghorbani attended the MEK-supported Iran Freedom Convention for Human Rights in Washington as part of the California delegation, where he also took pictures of attendees, including while posing in front of the White House.

On May 14, Mr Doostdar called Mr Ghorbani to discuss clandestine methods Mr Ghorbani should use in order to provide this information to Iran.

Mr Doostdar and Mr Ghorbani were both charged with acting as unregistered agents of the Iranian government and providing the Iran government with services in violation of sanctions. They face upwards of five years if found guilty.

Iran considers the Mujahideen-e Khalq to be a terrorist group that seeks the overthrow of the government in Tehran. The group was listed as a terrorist organization by the US State Department until 2012.