U.S. Says Accused Saudi Twitter Spy Vowed to ‘Delete Evil’
(Bloomberg) -- A former Twitter Inc. employee accused of helping Saudi Arabia spy on dissidents got an apology from a judge for keeping him locked up while prosecutors appeal an order to free him on bail.
U.S. District Judge William Alsup said the delay was unfortunately necessary because prosecutors weren’t able to move Ahmed Abouammo sooner from Seattle, where he lives, to San Francisco, where he faces charges.
“Your lovely family shouldn’t have to go through all this,” Alsup said at a hearing Tuesday. “This is the hand we got dealt because the government didn’t have him here last time.”
Prosecutors argue the Saudi national shouldn’t be released, saying his own words warrant his detention.
They cited a message that they say he wrote 4 1/2 years ago to the Saudi government handler who was working with him to ferret out information about Twitter users of interest to the royal family.
“We will delete evil my brother,” Abouammo allegedly wrote.
Abouammo allegedly fed his Saudi contacts information about Twitter users who were critical of the kingdom. He began working for Twitter in 2013 as a media partnership manager for customers in the Middle East and North Africa, according to the criminal complaint. Another ex-Twitter employee and a third man were also charged in the alleged spying, but they aren’t in custody.
Abouammo is charged with acting as an illegal foreign agent in the U.S. and faces a long prison sentence. That’d be an incentive for him to flee, prosecutors said.
With suspected assets overseas, dual citizenship in Lebanon and the potential for help from the Saudi security service to leave the U.S., Abouammo has the means to escape, prosecutors say. They also allege that he has no serious job prospects in the U.S. and may have made false statements in his filing for bankruptcy.
Abouammo’s lawyer emphasized that he has no criminal history.
“I want my client released today,” Jodi Linker, a federal public defender, told Alsup. “Mr. Abouammo has more than established he’s not a risk of flight,” she added, pointing to his wife and children who were listening in court.
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