Syrian Man Affiliated with Syrian Electronic Army Pleads Guilty
ALEXANDRIA, Va. – Peter Romar, 37, a Syrian national affiliated with the Syrian Electronic Army (SEA), pleaded guilty today to felony charges of conspiring to receive extortion proceeds and conspiring to unlawfully access computers. Romar was previously extradited from Germany on request of the United States.
“Cybercriminals cannot hide from justice,” said Dana J. Boente, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. “No matter where they are in the world, the United States will vigorously pursue those who commit crimes against U.S. citizens or companies and hold them accountable for their actions.”
“Today’s guilty plea is by the latest international offender who believed that he could operate from abroad, behind the perceived veil of anonymity offered by the Internet, and use computers to threaten the security of our citizens and their property,” said Assistant Attorney General Carlin. “It shows that the Department of Justice and the FBI stand behind their pledge to hold accountable foreign actors who assist in the hacking of U.S. victims.”
“Today, Peter Romar pleaded guilty for his role in conspiring to commit computer intrusions and extort victims on behalf of the Syrian Electronic Army,” said Assistant Director in Charge Paul Abbate. “This case demonstrates the reach and capabilities of the FBI to identify and unmask perpetrators in cyber space and hold them accountable under the law.”
According to the statement of facts filed with the plea agreement, beginning in approximately 2011, co-defendant Firas Dardar, known online as “The Shadow,” and other members of the SEA engaged in a multi-year criminal conspiracy to conduct computer intrusions against perceived detractors of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, including media entities, the U.S. government, and foreign governments. Dardar remains at large. Beginning in approximately 2013, Romar and Dardar engaged in an extortion scheme that involved hacking online businesses in the United States and elsewhere for personal profit. Court documents further allege that the conspiracy gained unauthorized access to the victims’ computers and then threatened to damage computers, delete data, or sell stolen data unless the victims provided extortion payments to Dardar and/or Romar. If a victim could not make extortion payments to the conspiracy’s Syrian bank accounts due to sanctions targeting Syria, Romar acted as an intermediary in Germany to evade those sanctions.
Romar faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison sentenced on October 21. The maximum statutory sentence is prescribed by Congress and is provided here for informational purposes, as the sentencing of the defendant will be determined by the court based on the advisory Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
Dana J. Boente, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia; John P. Carlin, Assistant Attorney General for National Security; James Trainor, Assistant Director of the FBI’s Cyber Division; and Paul M. Abbate, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Washington Field Office, made the announcement after the plea before U.S. District Judge Claude M. Hilton.
The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Maya D. Song and Jay V. Prabhu, Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Brandon L. 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.
The case was 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.
A copy of this press release may be found on the website of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia. Related court documents and information may be found on the website of the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia or on PACER by searching for Case No. 1:16-cr-00140.