US prosecutors drop charges against Twitter employee in Saudi hack case

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The U.S. sought to dismiss charges it brought late last year against two former Twitter Inc. employees and a Saudi national for allegedly helping Riyadh spy on dissidents who use the social network.

Prosecutors in San Francisco on Tuesday asked for a judge’s permission to drop the charges. The two-page filing doesn’t offer a reason but specifies that the dismissal would be “without prejudice,” meaning the government could file new charges.

The two former Twitter employees, Ahmad Abouammo and Ali Alzabarah, were accused of feeding the Saudi government information about Twitter users critical of it. They were recruited by a Saudi named Ahmed Almutairi, who lives in the kingdom and has worked for the royal family’s social media company, according to prosecutors.

All three were charged with acting as illegal foreign agents. Of the three, only Abouammo, a U.S. citizen, is in custody. He has pleaded not guilty.

Twitter, the Saudi Embassy, a lawyer for Abouammo and the U.S. attorney in San Francisco didn’t immediately respond to calls and emails seeking comment on the prosecutor’s request for dismissal.

“We recognize the lengths bad actors will go to try and undermine our service,” Twitter said in a statement after the charges were announced.

According to the U.S., Almutairi recruited Abouammo, who by the time of his arrest was working at Amazon.com in Seattle, and Alzabarah to use their Twitter credentials to mine the company’s internal systems for personal information about Saudi dissidents. In return, they were paid hundreds of thousands of dollars, prosecutors allege. Abouammo worked at Twitter’s San Francisco offices as a media partnership manager for the Middle East and Africa until 2015, according to court filings.

Alzabarah fled the country in July 2015 after Twitter management accused him of improperly accessing user data, according to court documents. He went to Saudi Arabia to work for a charitable foundation, where he was tasked with monitoring and manipulating social media, the U.S. says.

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