The U.S. Department of Justice has charged two former employees of the social media network Twitter with spying on users for Saudi Arabia’s government,.
The charges, unsealed on Wednesday in San Francisco, allege that Saudi agents sought personal information about Twitter users including known critics of the Saudi government.
Court documents named the two as Ahmad Abouammo, a US citizen, and Ali Alzabarah, from Saudi Arabia. A third person, Saudi citizen Ahmed Almutairi, is also accused of spying.
Prosecutors say the three men were working in coordination with a Saudi official who leads a charitable organization belonging to Saudi Arabia’s powerful crown prince and de facto ruler Mohammad bin Salman.
Mr Alzabarah, a former Twitter engineer, is accused of accessing the personal data of more than 6,000 Twitter users in 2015 after being recruited by Saudi agents.
He was confronted by his supervisors and placed on administrative leave before fleeing to Saudi Arabia with his wife and daughter, investigators said.
Tensions between Riyadh and Washington have run high since October 2018, when a Saudi hit squad killed and dismembered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a U.S. resident, Washington Post columnist and critic of MBS, in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
U.S. President Donald Trump has since defended maintaining ties with Riyadh, but the CIA reportedly concluded that MBS ordered the Khashoggi hit and U.S. lawmakers have urged the administration to distance itself from the kingdom.