Peter Romar, 36, a Syrian national affiliated with the Syrian Electronic Army (SEA), made his initial appearance this afternoon before U.S. Magistrate Judge John F. Anderson of the Eastern District of Virginia on charges that he conspired to violate U.S. law, including by unauthorized access to, and damage of, computers and related extortionate activities; receiving the proceeds of extortion; money laundering; wire fraud; violations of the Syrian Sanctions Regulations; and unlawful interstate communications.
Assistant Attorney General for National Security John P. Carlin, U.S. Attorney Dana J. Boente of the Eastern District of Virginia, Assistant Director James Trainor of the FBI’s Cyber Division and Assistant Director in Charge Paul M. Abbate of the FBI’s Washington Field Office announced Romar’s extradition.
Romar, who was detained by German authorities on a provisional arrest warrant on behalf of the United States, was charged by criminal complaint unsealed on March 22, 2016.
According to allegations in the complaint, beginning in or around 2011, co-defendant Firas Dardar, 27, known online as “The Shadow,” and another member of the SEA’s “Special Operations Division” engaged in a multi-year criminal conspiracy to conduct computer intrusions against perceived detractors of President Bashar al-Assad, including media entities, the White House and foreign governments. Beginning in or around 2013, SEA members Romar and Dardar also engaged in an extortion scheme that involved hacking online businesses in the United States and elsewhere for personal profit. Specifically, the complaint alleges that the conspiracy would gain unauthorized access to the victims’ computers and then threaten to damage computers, delete data or sell stolen data unless the victims provided extortion payments to Dardar and/or Romar. In at least one instance, Dardar attempted to use his affiliation with the SEA to instill fear into his victim. If a victim could not make extortion payments to the conspiracy’s Syrian bank accounts due to the Syrian Sanctions Regulations or other international sanctions regulations, Romar would act as an intermediary in an attempt to evade those sanctions.
The case is being investigated by the FBI’s Washington Field Office, with assistance from the NASA Office of the Inspector General, Department of State Bureau of Diplomatic Security and other law enforcement agencies. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jay V. Prabhu and Maya D. Song of the Eastern District of Virginia, and Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Brandon Van Grack and Trial Attorneys Scott McCulloch and Nathan Charles of the National Security Division’s Counterintelligence and Export Control Section. The Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs also provided significant assistance.