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Trial starts for man alleged to be Iraqi spy

January 30, 2008|From the Associated Press

An Iraqi-born American citizen collected intelligence on Assyrian groups in the United States for former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and didn't notify U.S. government officials, a prosecutor said Tuesday during opening statements in a federal court trial.

William Shaoul Benjamin, 67, of Los Angeles is charged with conspiracy, failing to register as an agent of a foreign government and making false statements. If convicted, he faces up to 20 years in prison.

Assistant U.S. Atty. Judith Heinz said Benjamin, who was free on bond, had been a paid informant for the Iraqi Intelligence Service, the foreign intelligence arm of the Iraqi government, after coming to the United States in 1992.

Heinz said Benjamin was to "penetrate and monitor" expatriate Assyrian Christians, a minority group in Iraq perceived to be hostile to Hussein.

Documents uncovered in Iraq will show that Benjamin was "loyal and reliable" to Hussein, Heinz said.

"There is a spy in the room," Heinz said. "The spy is William Shaoul Benjamin."

Defense attorney James Blatt deferred his opening statement and declined to comment as he left the Los Angeles courtroom.

Benjamin was born in Iraq and is Assyrian Christian. Prosecutors portray him in court documents as a traitor to his own community.

He received a total of $8,500 and two bottles of whiskey between 1994 and 1996 from the intelligence service, court documents show.

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