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Law and JusticeGlobal issues

Saudi ex-spy accuses MBS of assassination attempt

Tom Allinson
August 8, 2020

Exiled former minister Saad al Jabri has alleged that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman sent the same team to kill him that killed Jamal Khashoggi. The case may not see trial but the damage is done, analysts say.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman
Crown Prince Mohammed bin SalmanImage: picture-alliance/abaca/Balkis Press

A former Saudi minister and top intelligence official living in exile in Canada alleged on Thursday that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman sent an assassination squad to kill him in 2018 — the same team that murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi in a consulate in Turkey only two weeks earlier.

Saad al Jabri filed a lawsuit in a Washington, DC court against bin Salman, the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia often known as MBS, and 24 others, accusing the prince of flying a "hit squad" along with crime-scene clean-up specialists to Canada.

The alleged attempted hit was foiled when Canadian border police denied the team entry after discovering they had lied about knowing one another. They subsequently found two bags of forensic tools, according to a 107-page court filing.

Canadian Public Safety Minister Bill Blair has so far declined to comment directly on the allegations and Saudi authorities have not issued any statements.

Jamal Khashoggi
Khashoggi was killed in a Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018Image: picture-alliance/newscom/AFP/Getty ImagesTNS

Al Jabri's lawyers also allege that MBS sent him explicit death threats via WhatsApp, had obtained a religious decree sanctioning his killing, and had tried to lure him back to the Middle Eastern kingdom, and then coerce him by detaining the only two of his eight children that remain in Saudi Arabia.

Messages sent by MBS threatened to deploy "all available means to eliminate Dr Saad," according to the suit.

Read more: Omar Abdulaziz: A critic of Saudi Arabia becomes a target

Wanted for his secrets

Al Jabri was a close long-time aide to the previous Crown Prince Mohamed bin Nayef before bin Nayef was ousted by MBS in a 2017 coup, forcing al Jabri into exile and leaving bin Nayef in jail while MBS became the Saudi leader.

After serving in the powerful role of Interior Minister, "Jabri is probably the one who has the deepest insights into what has been going on not only in domestic affairs, but also in foreign affairs," Guido Steinberg, a senior expert in Saudi politics at the German think-tank SWP, told DW. "That's why MBS wants to have him back and we know that Mohammed bin Salman has tried everything."

As well as having deep ties with the US intelligence establishment that might threaten MBS, "few places hold more sensitive, humiliating, and damning information about Defendant bin Salman than the mind and memory of Dr. Saad," allege his lawyers at the firm Jenner & Block.

The lawsuit is only the latest episode in the al Jabri saga. In 2017, MBS tried to have Interpol issue a warrant for the former minister's arrest on corruption charges, but was rebuffed by the police agency due to suspicions the request was politically motivated, according to the New York Times.

Since Thursday the hashtag "Corrupt Saad Al Jabri" has been trending on Saudi social media in what social media researcher Marc Owen Jones tweeted was "very much part of the Saudi national defence."

"The Saudi national media reaction shows how much Saudi authorities are concerned about the damage the al Jabri case would do not only in the relationship with the US but also domestically," Yasmine Farouk, a fellow in the Middle East Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told DW.

Saudi Arabia dismisses criticism over Khashoggi murder

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'Damage is done'

Analysts doubt the suit, which seeks punitive damages, will make it to trial but they say the reputational damage to MBS could be significant.

"From a legal point of view, as far as I know, it's somewhat unclear whether an American court could start proceedings, because al Jabri is not a citizen — he's not a resident of the United States," Steinberg said. "He's only an important former ally, that's about it."

But Saudi activist Abdulaziz Almoayyad told DW that the combination of the physical evidence being carried by those also known to be involved in the Khashoggi murder, along with the threats that can likely be proven to trace back to MBS, may force him to respond.

"Al Jabri brought evidence to be challenged in a respected court system," Almoayyad said. "So, Mohamed bin Salman would have to defend himself because he can't just ignore the American court system, there is a lot of money under his and in the country's name over there."

Even if the case doesn't go to trial, "the additional reputational damage to the crown prince and Saudi Arabia is done," said Farouk. "In the case of al Jabri, this damage is expected to last and may even turn into concrete political damage because of his relations in the security and intelligence circles in the US."