From state secrets and political feuds to alleged murder plots and missing children, the now legal and political rift between ex-intel top brass Saad Aljabri and Riyadh’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) continues to grow.
“This is an ongoing nightmare. We haven’t heard a word ” Khalid Aljabri, Saad’s 36-year-old son, a medical doctor now residing in Canada, told Fox News. “My siblings are being held as hostages. We don’t know if they are alive or dead.”
Khalid said that their mother – also in Toronto – typically called his siblings, Omar, 21, and Sarah, 20, in the early morning Riyadh time. But on March 16, both their phones were unusually off. They soon got word from neighbors and eye-witnesses that “around 20 cars” had swarmed the house at 6 a.m. that morning, and the two were seized by authorities.
The silence since has been deafening.
“It is so concerning. Did they torture them? It doesn’t make sense for (the government) not to show us they are OK unless they seriously harmed them,” Khalid lamented. “There has been a total lack of response. If they are alive, produce them.”
Last week, Aljabri – who is self-exiled in Toronto, Canada, along with other members of his family – filed an explosive lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia under the Torture Victims Protection Act and the Alien Tort Statute “for MBS’s role in the attempted murder and torture of Dr. Saad.”
The former top aide in the Saudi Arabia Interior Ministry and a longtime intelligence ally of the United States has made explosive allegations that a “Tiger Squad” comprised of 50 hitmen – along with a forensics expert – was dispatched to Canada to kill him in 2018, just days after the death of dissident Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul, but were turned away by airport authorities. Following this failed assassination attempt, the lawsuit alleges that the Crown Prince put out a “fatwa” on Aljabri and that he now plans to send agents to enter Canada “by land” directly through the United States to, once and for all, “eliminate him.”
Yet the family contends that the most crucial reason in filing the suit was to try and attain some sort of reassurance that his two children, believed to still be in Saudi custody, are alive.
While crushed about being blocked from taking up their studies in the U.S., Khalid said that his siblings were purporting to continue their education at home – Omar was studying computer science, and Sarah had just completed architectural school.
Aljabri left his homeland in Riyadh in 2017, but upon concerns for his safety, he decided not to return. Most of his children and family also quickly relocated abroad to either the U.S. or Canada, but Omar and Sarah stayed behind while they awaited their U.S. student visas. But when they did finally arrive, they were placed on a travel ban and prohibited from leaving the country.
An Interpol alert was put out for Aljabri’s arrest in 2018 but was later deleted following an appeal by Aljabri that he was wanted only the grounds of being a political opponent of MBS. Alajbri claims in the suit that officials had long been purporting to coax him back to the Kingdom with everything from threats to job offers.
Then suddenly, in March of this year, Omar and Sarah were seized by Saudi authorities – days after being brought to a meeting with authorities in the Kingdom’s capital in which further pressure was allegedly placed on them regarding Aljabri’s location. Saudi investigators reportedly believed an escape plan was being hatched, which Khalid rebuffed as ridiculous given that the country’s borders were already shuttered as the coronavirus pandemic started sweeping through.
The Wall Street Journal reported last week, citing a Saudi official, that the siblings are being held together “in a villa for VIP prisoners within a prison complex in Riyadh.”
Khalid argued that not only does the family want proof of life, but contended that there is no reason for the children to be held in any form of “prison” against their will at all and that they were detained in another attempt to lure Aljabri back.
Aljabri is characterized in the complaint as a “trusted partner of U.S. intelligence officials,” which multiple sources confirmed to Fox News as, indeed, the case.
“I have never met anyone who had a better understanding of counterterrorism than Saad, he was a dedicated and brilliant civil servant who really embodied the partnership between our two countries,” Daniel Hoffman, a retired CIA station chief and director of the Middle East and North Africa Division, told Fox News.
For years, Aljabri served as Prince Mohammed bin Nayef’s number two at the Interior Ministry, holding the rank of minister. He was deemed the U.S.’s most trusted counterterrorism point person in the region following the attacks of Sept. 11, all the way through to his ousting from the position as MBS became the nation’s de facto leader – along with his boss bin Nayef – in 2017.
The U.S. State Department has also stated that “Saad’s work with the United States helped save American and Saudi lives,” and that “many U.S. government officials, both current and former, know and respect Saad.”
Hoffman also pointed out that Aljabri played a critical role in foiling the 2010 plot to blow up airliners with explosives concealed in printer cartridges.
“The important part right now is that if they are holding his kids, that is a violation of their human rights,” he continued.
Washington has vowed that the matter is being raised in the highest diplomatic channels with Riyadh, but it remains to be seen how strong a flashpoint the issue will be between the allied countries, and whether the case will advance in the federal legal system given that neither the plaintiff nor defendant actually resides in the United States.
“The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) will press all lanes to quash it; move to dismiss, contest jurisdiction, seek summary judgment, or assert sovereign immunity,” predicted Robert Sanders, an associate professor and chair of National Security at the University of New Haven.
And according to Kamran Bokhari, director of Analytical Development at the Center for Global Policy, the lawsuit itself is not likely to affect the U.S.-Saudi strategic relationship.
“That said, what it does is complicate matters and increases concern in Washington about the future stability of the monarchy,” he noted. “Riyadh’s response will depend on how much pressure they get from the White House. Because there is so much else going on for the U.S. – COVID, elections, domestic political-economic turmoil, and a litany of other more pressing foreign policy issues – the Saudis are not pressed to respond, just yet.”
But in any case, the plot thickens with the publicity that such a suit brings.
According to the ex-minister’s family, Aljabri was privy to pretty much all the wheelings, dealings and inside information ranging from where money was spent to the protracted war in Yemen – including snippets that might be considered embarrassing to the royal family. The family contends that the government wants him back where he can be silenced.
However, Riyadh has painted a broader picture that the ex-minister is part of their ongoing clampdown on corruption, and ensuring all individuals are brought to justice.
While Saudi officials have remained tight-lipped about the unfolding situation. The Kingdom’s Embassy in Washington has not responded to multiple requests for comment, and representatives in Riyadh have stated that they do not comment on open investigations.
And last month, weeks before the lawsuit was filed, an article in the WSJ characterized Aljabri as a “spymaster (who) had informants, access to billions of government dollars,” underscoring that he “is on the run from Saudi Arabia, where officials allege that a group of men he led while working for the Interior Ministry misspent $11 billion in government money, paying themselves at least $1 billion.”
Khalid dismissed the delineation of his father as mere spin.
Since rising to the Kingdom’s helm more than three years ago, MBS pledged to stamp out corruption from the top echelons – and in a dizzying purge summoned hundreds of government officials and members of the royal family to arrest inside the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Riyadh.
Moreover, Aljabri’s former superior, bin Nayef, was deposed by royal decree on June 21, 2017 – the same day as MBS was made presumptive to the throne and the travel prohibition was imposed on Omar and Sarah. Bin Nayef was also arrested this past March, a week prior to Omar and Sarah being taken in. He was charged with treason amid allegations of a coup plot against his Uncle, King Salman.
Yet irrespective of whatever beef might be bubbling between MBS and Aljabri – with his longstanding ties to bin Nayef wedged in the middle – Khalid stressed that there is no reason for his younger brother and sister to have been pulled into the fray.
“This is a big void in our lives; it is a daunting reality we live with every day. They are innocent kids who have nothing to do with this,” Khalid added. “Our agenda is basically family reunification. We will do everything in our power to achieve that.”