Saudi journalist 'traced by Twitter spies' forcibly disappeared

Saudi journalist 'traced by Twitter spies' forcibly disappeared
A Saudi journalist who ran a Twitter account critical of the regime was forcibly detained after allegedly being traced by Saudi spies who infiltrated Twitter's regional headquarters.
3 min read
06 November, 2018
Turki al-Jasser ran a monitoring Twitter account critical of the regime [Twitter]
A Saudi journalist is thought to have been forcibly detained for the past eight months after Saudi spies allegedly infiltrated Twitter's Dubai headquarters and connected him to an account that recorded abuses committed by the royal family.

Turki bin Abdulaziz al-Jasser was forcibly disappeared by Saudi authorities in March, according to various sources including prominent human rights activist Yahya Assiri.

Some reports allege that al-Jasser died in detention after being tortured, however these have not been confirmed.

"Al-Jasser was forcibly disappeared, and we are following his case," Assiri told The New Arab.

Assiri, who founded the ALQST human rights organisation, is a Saudi dissident who was granted political asylum in the UK last year.

Turki al-Jasser is now known to have run the Twitter account known as Kashkool or @calouche_ar, which monitored rights violations committed by the Saudi ruling family. However the account’s last tweets were from 2016 - the year Mohammed bin Salman became de facto leader - before it went silent.

Several sources have reported that Saudi authorities discovered al-Jasser's real identity after a team of the kingdom's "cyber-warrior" spies infiltrated the Twitter headquarters in Dubai, as part of the so-called Saudi online army founded by Saud al-Qahtani, the former chief adviser to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman known as the Saudi Steve Bannon.

Qahtani is said to be the architect of a Saudi social media campaign which deployed online armies to harass critics of the kingdom's regime, including Jamal Khashoggi, the journalist murdered in Saudi Arabia's Istanbul consulate last month.

The New York Times also reported claims in October that Saudi Arabia had embedded a spy within the Twitter corporation to monitor accounts critical of Riyadh.

Qahtani, who was fired after being blamed for Khashoggi's murder, posted a tweet in August 2017 thought to be linked to the infiltration operation, warning dissidents that an online alias would not protect them from being identified.

"Does your alias protect you from the #blacklist?

  1. States have ways of knowing the name of the account holder

  2. There are several technical ways to identify the IP address

  3. A secret I won't tell"

Many have linked the talk of a "secret" to the detention and killing of al-Jasser, but this has not been verified.

Jamal Khashoggi, in one of his columns for the Washington Post earlier this year, alleged Qahtani maintained a "blacklist" of writers critical of the kingdom who he would then intimidate.

In an off-record interview with Newsweek magazine prior to his death, Khashoggi described Qahtani and Turki al-Sheikh, another senior Saudi figure, as "thuggish".

"People fear them. You challenge them, you might end up in prison, and that has happened," he was quoted as saying.

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