US judges release ex-Twitter employee who 'spied for Saudi Arabia' ahead of trial

US judges release ex-Twitter employee who 'spied for Saudi Arabia' ahead of trial
A former Twitter employee accused of spying on dissidents for Saudi Arabia has been released from jail after judges set conditions for his bail.
2 min read
22 November, 2019
Saudi Arabia allegedly groomed Twitter employees to spy for the kingdom [Getty]
A former Twitter employee accused of abusing his position to help Saudi Arabia spy on its critics has been allowed to travel home to the US city of Seattle ahead of his trial.

US-Lebanese dual citizen Ahmad Abouammo, 41, is accused by US authorities of accessing the private information of people who criticised the Saudi government and royal family on Twitter.

US District Judge Edward Chen on Thursday rejected prosecutors' claims that no bail conditions would "significantly" reduce the likelihood of Abouammo trying to escape the US. His co-defendant, 35-year-old Saudi citizen Ali Alzabarah, fled to Saudi Arabia in 2015.

Abouammo's defence argued that he has lived in the US for 20 years and has always returned home after travel, depite knowing that authorities were investigating him.

"He has substantial ties here and as counsel has pointed out, there have been previous opportunities to flee," Chen said. "He's not taken any steps to flee."

As part of the bail conditions, Abouammo, his wife and children surrendered their passports and a $50,000 bond was placed to secure his release.

"If you were to flee or not comply, the bond is revoked," Chen said. "That would put your wife and whoever else signs on to the surety in jeopardy."

He will also be monitored by GPS.

According to Abouammo's indictment, he repeatedly accessed the Twitter account of a prominent Saudi dissident and was able to find out his email address and telephone number.

Alzabarah, who previously lived in the US, found out information from 6,000 Twitter accounts, 33 of which Saudi authorities submitted law enforcement requests to Twitter on, according to the US indictment.

Twitter found out about Alzabarah's unauthorised data access in late 2015 and placed him on administrative leave. He later fled the United States.

Last year, Twitter's office in Dubai gave Saudi authorities information which led to the arrest of Turki bin Abdul Aziz Al-Jasser, a journalist who ran the Kashkool Twitter account, which exposed human rights violations in Saudi Arabia.

Al-Jasser later died under torture in Saudi detention.

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