US President Barack Obama announced sanctions on Monday on those helping Syria and Iran acquire technology that lets them target dissidents through their cell phone and Internet use.
Social media tools that allowed democracy campaigners to organize rallies across the Middle East and North Africa are being monitored by Tehran and Damascus to "facilitate serious human rights abuses," an administration official said.
Obama unveiled the executive order, which he signed on Sunday, in a speech at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum. "The United States will
do everything in our power to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear
weapon," he said in his keynote address, adding that that the US will not stand idly by while faced with a regime that
threatens global security and denies the Holocaust.
The order freezes US assets linked to people found to have aided satellite, computer and phone network monitoring in Syria, where more than 9,000 people have been killed in more than a year in turmoil, as well as Iran, where Washington believes authorities are clamping down on opposition groups.
The order cites the Syrian General Intelligence Directorate, the Syrian cell phone company Syriatel, Iran's Ministry of Intelligence and Security, Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Iran's Law Enforcement Forces and the Iranian Internet provider Datak Telecom, as well as a number of individuals.
"The United States condemns the continuing campaigns of violence and human rights abuses against the people of Syria and Iran by their governments and provides a tool to hold accountable those who assist in or enable such abuses through the use of information and communications technology," it read.
The sanctions coincide with reports from Iran on Monday that the country's main oil export terminal had been hit by a suspected cyber attack affecting the the Oil Ministry and national oil company.
The Washington Post reported that Obama would also offer grants to companies to develop alerting tools to make activists aware of dangers of crackdowns or mass killings.