US arrest 2 Iranians who spied on dissidents, surveilled Jewish facilities
Two Iranians who collected information on opponents of Tehran and took covert pictures of Jewish institutions in the United States were charged Monday with spying for the Iranian government.
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 Mujahedin-e Khalq (the People's Mujahedin of Iran or MEK), a group of Iranian dissidents in exile.
The two were arrested on August 9 but the charges were not unsealed by a Washington court until Monday.
They said that Doostdar, 38, who resides in Iran, traveled to Chicago in July 2017 where agents watched him take pictures of Hillel Center and Rohr Chabad House, both Jewish community centers, near the University of Chicago.
The indictment did not explain why he took the pictures.
He then traveled to California where he met Ghorbani, apparently for the first time, according to the indictment.
Two months later 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 Doostdar traveled back to California to get the MEK information. In conversations between them recorded by the FBI, Ghorbani mentioned trying to "penetrate" the group, while 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 to Ghorbani in their meetings.
In March and April this year, Ghorbani went to Iran where, according to the indictment, he briefed government officials on his information on MEK and received a list of "taskings" for infiltrating the dissident group.
In May, 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.
Doostdar and Ghorbani were both charged with acting as unregistered agents of the Iranian government and providing the Iran government with services in violation of sanctions.