The US Justice Department has indicted two Iranian men on spying charges. They were arrested earlier this month for the surveillance of a Jewish facility and gathering information on an Iranian militant group.
Two Iranians were indicted on Monday for allegedly spying for Tehran in the United States, the US Justice Department said.
Mohammadi D. and Majid G., whose full names are protected under German media protocol, are accused of conducting surveillance on Jewish facilities in Chicago and trying to gain access to the People's Mujahedin of Iran, or MEK, a group of Iranian dissidents in exile.
The two were arrested on August 9, but the indictment not unsealed by a Washington court until Monday.
Both individuals were charged with acting as unregistered agents of the Iranian government by conducting the surveillance and providing the Iranian government with services in violation of sanctions.
One of the accused, a US-Iran dual citizen, allegedly traveled to Chicago in July 2017 and photographed the Hillel Center and Rohr Chabad House, both Jewish community centers near the University of Chicago, the indictment said. It did not indicate why he took the photos.
He then traveled to California where he met Majid G., an Iranian citizen and resident of California, apparently for the first time, according to the indictment.
Majid G. then attended an MEK rally, which was protesting against the Iranian government, in New York City on September 20, 2017 and took photographs of the participants, for which he was reportedly paid $2,000 (€1,740) when he passed them on to Mohammadi D.
The photos, many of them with handwritten notes about the participants, were found in Majid G.'s luggage at a US airport as he was traveling back from Iran in December, the Justice Department said.
Majid G. also went to Iran in March and April this year, according to the indictment. He briefed government officials on his information on the MEK and received instructions to infiltrate the group.
He then attended an MEK-affiliated Iran Freedom Convention for Human Rights in Washington in May. He again appeared to photograph the attendees, including while they were posing in front of the White House, the department said. He later spoke with Mohammadi D. to discuss how the information could be delivered to Iran.
Diplomatic tensions escalating
Iran considers the MEK to be a terrorist group that seeks to overthrow the government. The US State Department listed the militant group as a terrorist organization until 2012.
The indictment comes as tensions between the US and Iran have escalated in recent months. President Donald Trump pulled the US out of the Iran nuclear deal in May and reimposed economic sanctions in the process.
Trump and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani also exchanged charged words in July after Rouhani threatened to shut down international oil shipments through the Strait of Hormuz if Washington continued to provoke Iran.
The US State Department announced earlier this month that it would form a so-called Iran Action Group designed to increase diplomatic and economic pressure on Iran.
dv/jm (AFP, Reuters)