Federal prosecutors filed criminal charges Tuesday against two hackers, accusing them of damaging “multiple websites” across the United States in retaliation for the January drone strike that killed an Iranian general.
The two men charged are Behzad Mohammadzadeh, an Iranian national believed to be 19 years old, and Marwan Abusrour, who is said to be roughly 25 years old and described by prosecutors as a “stateless national of the Palestinian Authority.”
Both men face one count of conspiring to commit international damage to a protected computer and one count of intentionally damaging a protected computer.
Mr. Mohammadzadeh is believed to be in living in Iran while Mr. Abusrour is said to be residing in the Palestinian Authority. Both men are said to be at large.
The pair are accused of orchestrating a cyber-assault in response to the United States’ airstrike killing Qasem Soleimani, head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
“The hackers victimized innocent third parties in a campaign to retaliate for the military action that killed Soleimani, a man behind countless acts of terror against Americans and others that the Iranian regime opposed,” Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers said in a statement. “Their misguided, illegal actions in support of a rogue, destabilizing regime will come back to haunt them, as they are now fugitives from justice.”
Prosecutors say Mr. Mohammadzadeh has publicly claimed to have defaced more than 1,100 websites around the world with pro-Iranian and pro-hacker messages and Mr. Abusrour said he has defaced at least 337 websites across the globe.
The defendants began working together in late December, according to court documents.
After the U.S. announced that it had killed Soleimani, Mr. Mohammadzadeh allegedly transmitted computer code to 51 U.S. websites, replacing their content with pictures of Soleimani against the background of the Iranian flag, prosecutors said. “Down with America,” the messages said.
About a week later, Mr. Abusrour provided his alleged partner with access to at least seven websites that were also defaced with similar images and texts.
Prosecutors did not identify the websites beyond saying that some were hosted on computers owned by a company with a corporate headquarters in Massachusetts.
If convicted, the pair could each face up to 15 years in prison. However, given that neither defendant is residing in an area that has an extradition treaty with the United States, it is unlikely that either will see a U.S. courtroom.