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Saudi man pleads guilty to lying to feds investigating dissident harassment

Ibrahim Alhussayen told a court he 'knowingly and willingly' lied to FBI agents about social media accounts he is alleged to have used to intimidate Saudis in the US and Canada
Alhussayen told a federal court last week that he had intentionally failed to disclose an Instagram account he was using (AFP)

A Saudi Arabian man has pleaded guilty to lying to FBI agents about anonymous social media accounts he allegedly used to harass Saudi dissidents, mostly women, based in the US and Canada.

Ibrahim Alhussayen told the federal court in Brooklyn on 27 October that he had "knowingly and willfully" misled the agents who had asked him on two separate occasions in 2021 and 2022 to identify all of the accounts he used.

"I had other social media accounts that I intentionally did not tell the agents about," he said, according to a court transcript. One of those accounts, he said, was an Instagram account with the name Samar16490.

"Also during the January 12th, 2022 interview, the agents asked me if I had any accounts other than the ones that I previously disclosed. I falsely stated that I did not."

He concluded: "What I did was wrong and I'm truly sorry for what I have done."

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Alhussayen struck a plea agreement with prosecutors which could see him serve a maximum of six months in jail. After he serves his sentence, he will be sent back to Saudi Arabia as part of that deal. He is also not to have contact with the alleged victims for three years.

The 42-year-old was arrested by FBI agents in June. An unsealed complaint filed that month in federal court alleged that Alhussayen had used the @samar16490 Instagram account to harass Saudi dissidents, and lied to agents investigating the alleged harassment campaign.

According to the complaint, Alhussayen told FBI agents last year that he worked as an administrative adviser and consultant for the Saudi Royal Court, which is listed as his employer on his student visa, until 2012, but that he was no longer working for the Saudi government when the FBI interviewed him. 

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During several months of the alleged harassment, the complaint said, he was in regular contact with an employee of the Saudi General Sports Authority, headed by Turki al-Sheikh, a close adviser to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. 

He earned a PhD in public policy from Jackson State University in Mississippi on a scholarship funded by the Saudi Royal Court and Saudi Cultural Mission, according to the complaint.

His dissertation appears to have focused on the organisational culture of Saudi Arabia's postal service and its ability to carry out Vision 2030, the crown prince's plan to transform the kingdom's economy.

The FBI declined to comment when MEE on Tuesday asked whether the investigation into the alleged campaign was ongoing.

Most of the alleged victims of the harassment campaign were women, two of whom have previously told MEE about how the @samar16490 account attempted to gain their trust and had eventually left them feeling unsafe. 

One of the women, Danah al-Mayouf, said the account offered to give her documents that would help her in a multi-million dollar lawsuit a fellow Saudi Arabian citizen has brought against her - but only if they met in person.

A second woman said the same account sent her a photo of her grandfather, in an effort, she believes, to coax her into disclosing where she was living.

Mayouf told MEE on Tuesday that when she watched Alhussayen plead guilty last week, she "didn't feel that justice was served". 

"I hoped that it was not only Ibrahim who was sentenced but the others who worked with him on this despicable campaign that caused me mental and emotional pain," she said.

"Ibrahim was not working alone and I believe he is part of a bigger network that is funded by the Saudi government."

Neither Alhussayen's lawyers, nor the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs responded to MEE's request for comment.

Alhussayen is currently scheduled to be sentenced in January.

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