Saad al-Jabri: How MbS' Khashoggi-style plot against exiled rival could impact relations with Washington

Saad al-Jabri: How MbS' Khashoggi-style plot against exiled rival could impact relations with Washington
Comment: The lawsuit will have implications for the US intelligence apparatus, and under a potential Biden presidency could even shape US policy towards Saudi Arabia, writes Courtney Freer.
4 min read
13 Aug, 2020
MbS is accused of plotting to kill a former official exiled in Canada [Getty]
Saad al-Jabri, a former Saudi intelligence official, filed a lawsuit last week in the US District Court for the District of Columbia under the Torture Victims Protection Act and Alien Tort State, in which he accused Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) of having sent a group to Canada to kill and dismember him in 2018.

In the suit, al-Jabri claims that, because he had knowledge that could have damaged the relationship between MbS and the Trump administration, he has been wanted by Saudi authorities. Al-Jabri is the 
first former official to publicly accuse the crown prince of systematically trying to silence critics.

In March of this year, reports had surfaced that al-Jabri, who currently lives outside of Toronto, accused MbS of trying to have him killed in 2018 weeks after the news of Jamal Khashoggi's death at the Saudi consulate. According to Canadian newspaper Globe and MailCanadian security services had been notified of an attempted attack on al-Jabri, who served under former crown prince Mohammed bin Nayef (MbN), who is currently thought to be under house arrest in Saudi Arabia after having been ousted from his position in 2017 by MbS.

Al-Jabri is now said to be protected by "heavily armed" officers of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in addition to private guards.

Al-Jabri was removed from his post as a top aide to MbN in 2015 and went abroad in June 2017 after MbS became crown prince, initially to the US and later to Canada which since 2018 has had tense relations with Saudi Arabia, and which is easier for his family to emigrate to.

According to the lawsuit, Saudi agents under the name Tiger Squad tried to target al-Jabri in Canada less than two weeks after the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, which the CIA concluded was likely done on orders from MbS. Al-Jabri has further accused MbS of attempting to get him back to Saudi Arabia by offering him employment, threatening his extradition under corruption charges, and arresting two of his children.

The gap between the president and the US intelligence apparatus will likely continue to widen

In fact, Saudi Arabia in 2017 went so far as to file a notice through Interpol requesting the arrest and extradition of al-Jabri to Saudi Arabia on corruption charges – a request which Interpol later removed as politically motivated.

Read more: As King Salman's health deteriorates, a calculating, paranoid MbS waits in the wings

While MbS has already demonstrated his ability and willingness to reach Saudi dissidents abroad, none to our knowledge enjoys as close a relationship with the US intelligence community. The text of al-Jabri's lawsuit indicates this:

"Few alive have had a closer partnership with the US intelligence and security apparatus [….] Through decades of close cooperation with senior US officials on counterterrorism projects while serving the Saudi government, Dr. Saad came to be a trusted partner whose information and counsel was sought before making life-and-death decisions about US national security." Indeed, MbN enjoyed a strong reputation among the American intelligence community particularly for his work on counterterrorism.

It is unclear how these recent revelations could affect the US-Saudi alliance that has been a cornerstone of the Trump administration's foreign policy in the Middle East.

If the lawsuit is successful in determining MbS's guilt, it is no longer possible to deny the role played by Saudi Arabia in attempting to silence critical voices, wherever in the world they may be.

This could potentially complicate the White House's ties to MbS, whom President Trump has called his friend and a "terrific ally". Nonetheless, it is unlikely that Trump, who has maintained his alliance despite findings of the American intelligence community about Jamal Khashoggi's killing will change course now, and instead the gap between the president and the US intelligence apparatus will likely continue to widen.

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, however, has said that if he were elected, Saudi Arabia would be treated as "the pariah that they are."

Interestingly, Biden was said to have been considered as a potential "MbS whisperer" as the young prince became increasingly powerful under the Obama administration as defence minister. Biden was ultimately deemed too old for the job - one which Jared Kushner appears to have taken in the Trump White House.

Still, the result of the lawsuit will have implications for MbS and, if successful, could spur similar such actions by others critical of his regime, making alliance with the government potentially even more difficult for western governments.

Dr Courtney Freer is a research fellow at LSE Middle East Centre.

Follow her on Twitter: @CourtneyFreer

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Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.