In front of a US court, a former Saudi spy accuses Mohammed bin Salman of wanting his death

Saad Aljabri takes legal action in the United States against the Saudi crown prince and accuses him of planning to have him killed. The documentation contains disturbing similarities with the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Four US senators called on Donald Trump to intervene.

In September 2017, a former Saudi intelligence official, living in exile in Canada, tried to get his two children out of the Gulf monarchy to put them in safety. On WhatsApp, Saad Aljabri then contacted the most powerful man in his country of origin, Crown Prince Mohammed ben Salman (MBS).

Details of the conversation between the two men were revealed on August 6 in a lawsuit brought by Saad Aljabri against MBS in a US district court in the capital, Washington. The former spy accuses the Crown Prince of planning to kill him. Although these allegations are still to be verified by the court, they have a surprisingly familiar resonance with the case of the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashogg at the consulate of the monarchy in Istanbul in January 2019.

“Come in person and tell us what you want,” MBS writes on WhatsApp, according to the document, which contains a screenshot of the exchange in Arabic and its translation into English. “I hope you will take into account what I have already sent you, because the issue of children is very important to me,” Saad Aljabri replied.

Two minutes later, the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia again orders the former officer to return to his country. “I really need you here,” he wrote before ordering, “24 hours.”

Whatsapp conversation between Mohammed ben Salman and Saad Aljabri is shown in the indictment reported by the latter in the US District Court for the District of Columbia. © U.S. District Cout for the District of Columbia, Case 1:20-cv-02146-TJK

Sensitive information

Four months earlier, Saad Aljabri, then a close adviser to Prince Mohammad ben Nayef, interior minister and major rival of MBS, fled the kingdom of Turkey. He was still there when, in June 2017, Mohammad ben Nayef lost his status as the Crown Prince of the Kingdom to MBS. In his new role, the young and fierce leader then begins a purge of his rivals in the country.

As Mohammad bin Nayef’s right-wing man, Saad Aljabri was the liaison between Saudi and Western intelligence services, and he holds very sensitive information about the rulers of the kingdom.

HO / Saudi Press Agency, AFP

According tothe indictment was filed by Saad Aljabri in Washington, MBS wanted him back to Saudi Arabia “where he could be killed”. A few days after the WhatsApp exchange between the two men, the former officer left Turkey for Canada. But two of his eight children, Omar and Sarah, remain trapped in Saudi Arabia and are said to be used as “human bait” to lure their father. The failed strategy attracts the attention of some US senators.

“Moral obligation”

On July 9, Republicans Marco Rubio and Democrats Patrick Leahy, Tim Kaine and Chris Van Hollen sought help from President Donald Trump to protect Omar, 21, and Sarah, 20. “We believe the United States has a moral obligation to do what it can to secure the freedom of their children, “they write in a letter to the White House. They describe Saad Aljabri as “a close ally and friend of the United States”, a “valuable partner” for the intelligence services and the Foreign Office, who “was hailed by CIA officials for saving thousands of American lives by exposing and preventing terrorists. Saad Aljabri, 62 , has almost 40 years of experience in national security and the fight against terrorism.

It was also the fate of the children that led his father to make this unusual decision to take legal action in a US court. Saad Aljabriy says MBS has launched a campaign for the assassination and “has been working on this case for three years.” The former officer bases his action on two US laws: the Torture Victims Protection Act, which prohibits outrageous murders, and the Alien Tort Charter, which allows victims of such operations – including non-US citizens – to initiate court proceedings in the United States.

Team of killers arrested in Canada

The 107-page document describes the document which has not yet been verified and is addressed to Saad Aljabri. It contains information about the arrival in Canada in October 2018 of a team of murderers similar to the one who murdered the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey, who is carrying forensic equipment that can clean up a crime scene. Men were reportedly arrested by Canadian authorities, questioned and returned to Saudi Arabia, according to the document.

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According to the indictment, MBS had warned Saad Aljabri that he would use “legal action and measures that could [lui] be harmful. Attempts by the Saudi Crown Prince to use “legal action” were blocked by Interpol. In a decision taken on July 4, 2018, months before Jamal Khashogg’s assassination sparked international outcry, the Commission and extradition was “politically motivated rather than strictly legal”.

“Very serious accusations”

The Aljabri case once again points to Saudi Arabia’s violations of human rights, on its land and against its citizens abroad. “The charges in this trial have not yet been proven, but they are very serious allegations against the Crown Prince in Saudi Arabia, a very powerful country. If Mohammed bin Salman is busy killing people, it is very serious,” said Rami Khoury, a professor of journalism. at the American University of Beirut and Professor Emeritus at Harvard Kennedy School, to France 24.

The Crown Prince’s alleged role in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi has been a nightmare for the public image of the petromonarchy. While MBS has admitted that men who worked for him killed the Washington Post columnist inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, he denies any involvement in the murder. But his denials struggle to convince. In June 2019, an inquiry into the assassination of Jamal Khashoggimenée by UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights, Agnès Callamard, found “credible evidence, which justifies a more in-depth criminal investigation” of the involvement of senior Saudi officials, including Mohammed bin Salman.

>> To read: “The Saudi Crown Prince takes responsibility for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi”

Saad Aljabri’s accusations are surprisingly similar to those of the murdered journalist. But investigations by Jamal Khashoggi have so far been hampered for political and diplomatic reasons. The Trump administration has blocked attempts by the US Congress to shed light on those responsible for the assassination, while the trial in Turkey lacks international credibility, given the weaknesses of the Turkish judicial system.

“The Saudis are lost”

According to some experts, Saad Aljabri’s extraordinary appeal to a US court could be overwhelming for MBS. “The charges will be tried using instruments of the rule of law,” Rami Khoury said. “The case is in the spotlight. If a crown prince or a ruler of a country is convicted of a crime, it is very serious.”

But like other Saudi experts, Rami Khoury does not expect MBS to appear in US court. Unlike criminal cases, civil trials lead to financial compensation, not imprisonment.

On August 7, the Washington District Court issued an official statement advising the defendants in the trial. Saudi authorities have not yet responded to media inquiries into the matter.

Riyadh, quite used to petrodollar diplomacy, is not on familiar ground. “The Saudis are completely lost in the realm of the rule of law. They work with personal relationships and do not know how to deal with these events in Congress and in court,” said Rami Khoury.

Trump and Kushner, perfect partners for MBS

Considering how they conduct diplomatic affairs, the Saudi authorities have found perfect partners with Donald Trump and his stepson Jared Kushner, an adviser to the president, who has developed personal relationships with MBS.

“Trump and Kushner, accustomed to shady real estate transactions, quickly adapted to Saudi protection and protection systems: unwavering support from the Trump administration [à Riyad] in exchange for promises of arms sales and other trade deals, “said Mohammad Bazzi, a professor of journalism at New York University, in a column for the British newspaper The Guardian.

>> To read: “Khashoggi deal: between Trump and the Saudis, good accounts make good allies”

But the Saudis are well aware that nothing is permanent in the direction of American diplomacy. The Aljabri deal comes just three months before the November presidential election, and Riyadh is supporting a potential change of White House tenants.

If he wins the election night in November, it is unlikely that the Democratic candidate Joe Biden will make a drastic change in relations between the two countries. But unlike Donald Trump, who protected the MBS from the fallout from Jamal Khashoggi’s assassination, it is unlikely that he will hand over the Crown Prince’s violations of human rights. “Joe Biden is more inclined to follow international law, follow public opinion and the pressure exerted by senators,” Rami Khoury said.

The pressure is expected to increase when Saad Aljabri’s unusual trial goes into lengthy legal proceedings, which will continue after the 2020 election.

Adapted from English by Rémi Carlier. The original article can be read here.