Saudi police told to kill villagers resisting NEOM megaproject evictions: BBC

Saudi police told to kill villagers resisting NEOM megaproject evictions: BBC
An-ex Saudi intelligence officer revealed that authorities were permitted to use lethal forces on those standing in the way of the controversial NEOM project.
4 min read
09 May, 2024
The Line futuristic city is part of Mohammed bin Salman's wider NEOM project [Getty/file photo

Saudi forces were allegedly told they can kill individuals resisting eviction to make way for the construction of a NEOM-linked futuristic city, an ex-Saudi intelligence officer has revealed.

Colonel Rabih Alenezi told the BBC that one villager was shot and killed for protesting being forcibly removed from his home, to make way for The Line, a linear smart city currently under construction.

Colonel Rabih Alenezi said the village where residents were ordered to evict was al-Khuraybah, 4,5 kilometres south of The Line and home to the al-Howeitat tribe, who have resided in the region for centuries.

Abdul-Rahim al-Howeiti was reportedly shot and killed by security forces four years ago for refusing to give up his property, due for demolition to make way for the NEOM project’s construction.

The New Arab was among the first English-language media outlets to report on Howeiti's death at the hands of Saudi security forces in April 2020, before the story was picked up in Western media outlets.

The New Arab could not verify Col. Alenezi's allegations and the Saudi embassy in London was contacted for a comment but did not receive a reply at the time of publication.

The tribesman, who was also a community activist, posted multiple videos on social media protesting against the evictions and the mega city’s construction.

He had repeatedly refused to allow a land registry committee to value his property, and was shot dead by Saudi authorities a day later, during the clearance mission.

Al-Howeiti accused Saudi Arabia of deliberately displacing people in favour for a project "alien" to the region’s traditions and history.

Former intelligence officer Alenezi, who now lives in the UK, told the BBC that the April 2020 order stated the tribe was made up of "many rebels" and "whoever continues to resist [eviction] should be killed, so it licensed the use of lethal force against whoever stayed in their home".


Alenezi didn’t participate in the mission for made-up medical reasons, which nevertheless went ahead.

"Neom is the centrepiece of Mohamed Bin Salman's ideas. That's why he was so brutal in dealing with the Howeitat," he said.

Saudi security forces confirmed his death, but claimed that the tribesman opened fire first, forcing them to "retaliate". His death drew worldwide condemnation.

Sources familiar with the Saudi Intelligence directorate told the BBC that Col Alenezi’s testimonies were in line with their knowledge regarding the mission to evict villagers.

The ALQST human rights organisation said last year that a least 47 members of the al-Howeitat tribe have been arrested and detained, with 15 tribesmen handed prison between 10-50 years under Saudi counter-terrorism law. Five have been at least sentenced to death.

The Howeitat tribe, who inhabit the northwest of Saudi Arabia, can also be found, as well as parts of southern Jordan, the Naqab (Negev) desert and parts of the Sinai peninsula in Egypt.

Numerous homes have also been razed and thousands of people displaced in neighbourhoods across Jeddah, to make way for the futuristic projects. Saudi authorities have threatened those who resist evictions with arrests and imprisonment, activists told the BBC.

The Line is touted to be a car-free, linear city, with no streets or carbon emissions. Announced in January 2021, The Line is planned to be the first development of a $500 billion NEOM project, which constitutes a part of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 project, a strategy aimed at diversifying its economy away from oil production.

The NEOM Project, spearheaded by Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, is expected to cost $500 billion, with Saudi Arabia claiming that it will create hundreds of thousands of jobs. The ambitious project, however, has been subject to criticism, mostly over human rights violations and environmental concerns, and has been labelled as "dystopian".

In 2023, the UN said it was concerned over the planned execution of three men in connection with their opposition to the mega-project, currently being built in the country’s northwestern province of Tabruk.

Live Story

Riyadh went on to deny that the men were facing the death penalty to due resisting eviction, but claimed that they were "terrorists" with connections to Islamic State and Al-Qaeda.

6,000 people have reportedly been forcibly removed in Tabruk, though UK-based ALQST estimates the figure to be much higher.

The Line is slated to be only 200 metres wide and 170 kilometres long, though only 2.4 kilometres are expected to be completed by 2030, Bloomberg said in a report last month.

The US website also added that Riyadh has scaled back its plan for the futuristic city, with only 300,000 residents expected to live there by 2030, rather than the previously anticipated 1.5 million.