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US arrests two Iranians on spying charges

Ahmadreza Doostdar and Majid Ghorbani were both charged with acting as unregistered agents of the Iranian government
Supporters listen to Maryam Radjavi, the president of the National Council of Resistance of Iran and Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK) leader (AFP)

Two Iranian men were indicted on Monday for allegedly spying for Tehran in the United States, including conducting surveillance at a Jewish facility and gathering information on backers of the militant Iranian opposition Mujahedeen-e Khalq, the Justice Department said.

Ahmadreza Mohammadi-Doostdar, 38, a dual US-Iranian citizen, and Majid Ghorbani, 59, an Iranian citizen and resident of California, were charged in the indictment with acting on behalf of Iran by conducting the surveillance, the department said in a statement. Both were arrested on 9 August.

Doostdar and Ghorbani were both charged with acting as unregistered agents of the Iranian government and providing it with services in violation of sanctions.

The indictment alleges that Doostdar travelled from Iran to the United States in July 2017 to collect intelligence about entities considered to be enemies of the Iranian government, including Israeli and Jewish interests as well as people associated with the Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK), a group of Iranian dissidents in exile, it said.

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The Justice Department said Doostdar conducted surveillance in July 2017 of an ultra-orthodox Jewish facility in Chicago, the Rohr Chabad House, including photographing the security features.

The indictment did not explain why he took the pictures.

Ghorbani attended an MEK rally in New York on 20 September 2017, to protest against the current Iranian government, taking photographs of the participants, which he later passed on to Doostdar and was paid about $2,000.

The photos, many with handwritten notes about the participants, were found in Ghorbani's luggage at a US airport as he was returning to Iran in December 2017, the Justice Department said.

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.

Ghorbani also attended a MEK-affiliated Iran Freedom Convention for Human Rights in Washington in May, where he again appeared to photograph speakers and attendees, the department said. He later spoke with Doostdar to discuss clandestine methods to deliver the information to Iran, it said.

Iran considers the Mujahideen-e Khalq to be a terrorist group that seeks the overthrow of the government in Tehran. The group was listed as a terrorist organisation by the US State Department until 2012.