Thursday, February 9, 2012

Germany Expels Four Syrian Diplomats in Spy Case

Via NY Times -

As tensions mount between Western nations and the authorities in Damascus, Syria, the Foreign Ministry here in Berlin said on Thursday that it had ordered the expulsion of four staff members from the Syrian Embassy after arresting two men accused separately of spying on opponents of President Bashar al-Assad among Syrian exiles in Germany.

The police here arrested the two men on Tuesday saying they were “strongly suspected of investigating Syrian opposition members in Germany for a Syrian intelligence service over a period of years.”

The men were identified, under standard German procedures, only as Mahmoud El A., 47, of Lebanese descent, and Akram O., 34, a Syrian.

State and federal police officers searched the homes of six other suspects “believed to be involved in espionage.”

In a statement on Thursday, Guido Westerwelle, the foreign minister, said four diplomats — three men and a woman who were not identified by name — had been given three days to leave Germany. Mr. Westerwelle did not go into detail about the expulsions, but officials said the embassy personnel were suspected of carrying out activities incompatible with their diplomatic status, a formulation that usually refers to espionage.

The action came after several Western and Arab nations reduced their diplomatic presence in Damascus. The United States closed its embassy there earlier this week.

Syrian officials made no immediate public comment on the expulsions.

After Tuesday’s arrests, Mr. Westerwelle had already summoned the Syrian ambassador to tell him that intimidation of Syrian opposition figures in Germany would not be tolerated, officials said. According to German news reports, the two arrested men were not themselves diplomats, but worked closely with Syrian Embassy officials.

Their activities were said to have included infiltrating demonstrations to photograph Syrians opposed to President Assad and then transmitting the images to Damascus along with other information about the regime’s opponents.


The practice of spying on overseas opponents is not restricted to Germany or Syria.

In October, a Syrian-American man was arrested in the United States and accused of secretly working with Syrian intelligence to gather information on overseas protesters against the government in Damascus. The Syrian Embassy in Washington has called the charges baseless.

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