US State Department 'considering MbS immunity request' in Al-Jabri lawsuit

US State Department 'considering MbS immunity request' in Al-Jabri lawsuit
Immunity for the crown prince in the alleged assassination plot against Saad Aljabri could provide the legal basis for full protection from the killing of Jamal Khashoggi.
3 min read
23 December, 2020
Saudi officials are reportedly claiming tha MbS is entitled to such protection [Getty]
The Trump administration is reviewing an immunity request for Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman from a federal lawsuit concerning the attempted killing of a Saudi dissident, according to legal documents seen by The Washington Post.

The State Department last month gave a questionnaire to lawyers for Saad Al-Jabri, a former intelligence official living in exile in Canada who was allegedly targeted for assassination by a Saudi 'Tiger Team' in October 2018.

In the questionnaire, the federal agency asks for the lawyers' views on whether the agency should respond to Saudi Arabia's request, a source close to the case and the document revealed.

Neither representatives for the State Department nor lawyers for Al-Jabri and Salm responded when contacted by US media for comment.

Saudi Arabia's arguments in support of its request, made in October this year, are unclear.

Those familiar with Al-Jabri's case believe that Saudi officials are claiming that as a de facto ruler of the kingdom, bin Salman is entitled to such protection.

If the request is granted, it could provide legal grounds for shielding the crown prince from liability in other cases filed in US courts, including the one where his accused of ordering the killing and dismemberment of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a source told The New York Times.

Khalid Al-Jabri, a Canada-based cardiologist, has warned that the immunity would green-light bin Salman's revenge on political dissidents, including assassination plots, saying: "Lack of accountability is one thing, but allowing impunity through immunity is like issuing a license to kill."

His father filed his lawsuit at the United States District Court for the District of Columbia in August, alleging that Saudi operatives acting under the orders of the crown prince were sent to kill him in October 2018, weeks after Khashoggi's murder in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

Read more: Saudi Crown Prince MbS summoned to US court via WhatsApp over 'assassination attempt'

He had worked for years as a top aide to former Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef and was a close ally of US intelligence officials.

Al-Jabri was fired in 2015 and left his country in 2017, the same year bin Salman deposed bin Nayef to become second in line to the throne.

This year in March, Saudi authorities detained Al-Jabri's brother, son and daughter, in a move which drew condemnation from relatives and US officials who said his family were being used as bargaining chips to silence him and force his return to the kingdom.

Lawyers for bin Salman this month asked a federal judge for Al-Jabri’s lawsuit to be dismissed, accusing him and those within his circle of embezzling billions of dollars in state funds. Critics say those charges are politically motivated.

Saudi Arabia's opportunities to seek immunity for bin Salman may be waning.

In contrast to Trump, who has protected lucrative arms sales to the kingdom through vetoing resolution to end US support for the Yemen war as well as dismissing claims bin Salman was involved in Khashoggi's killing, President-elect Joe Biden has been vocal in his criticism of Saudi policy.

Biden has promised to end US support for war in Yemen, saying he would never allow his Washington to "check its principles at the door just to buy oil or sell weapons".

It remains to be seen whether the State Department will suggest that immunity be granted, since it can only recommend the protection for foreign heads of state or diplomats, according to legal experts.

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