Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman at the G20 summit in Osaka, Japan on June 29, 2019.
erin schaff/The New York Times News Service
A high-ranking former Saudi intelligence czar is under a heightened security watch in Canada because of an active threat by agents of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, according to a source with knowledge of the situation.
The source told The Globe and Mail that Canadian security agencies were recently alerted to a new attempt to assassinate Saad Aljabri, the former top counterintelligence chief under deposed crown prince Mohammed bin Nayef, who was ousted in a coup in June, 2017.
The source would not provide further details of the recent assassination threat to Dr. Aljabri, who is living at an undisclosed location in Toronto under the protection of heavily armed RCMP officers and private security. The Globe and Mail is not revealing the name of the source because they were not authorized to discuss sensitive national-security issues.
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As recently as May of this year, the Crown Prince and his advisers were overheard saying they planned “to send men to kill Dr. Saad in Canada by ‘land this time’ – that is by dispatching agents from the United States to travel across the border to complete the job,” according to court filings in a U.S. federal court in Washington this week.
The court documents said the Crown Prince met with his close advisers in Neom, Saudi Arabia in May, 2020, “where they were overheard saying that he had obtained a fatwa for the killing of Dr. Saad.” A fatwa is a non-binding ruling on, or interpretation of, Islamic law by a religious authority.
“As a result of Defendant bin Salman’s fatwa, the newest stage of a multiyear campaign of execution, Dr. Saad’s life remains in dire peril to this day,” the court documents said.
As The Globe reported Thursday from the same court documents, the Crown Prince allegedly dispatched a hit squad to Canada in October, 2018, to try to kill Dr. Aljabri – the bid was foiled when Canada Border Services officers refused all but one entry at Ottawa’s Macdonald-Laurier International Airport. This effort, allegedly, was made less than two weeks after Saudi agents killed dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul.
Richard Fadden, a former director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service who also served as national security adviser to two prime ministers, said Dr. Aljabri’s court-filed allegations are plausible.
“I know Mohammed bin Salman has been after Aljabri for awhile. I know MBS is a pretty vicious sort of guy – witness Khashoggi – so putting two and two together, I do come up with four. So fundamentally, on the substance of it, I believe him,” he said. “Every little detail is a different issue.”
University of Waterloo political science professor Bessma Momani, an expert in Mideast politics, said she believes Dr. Aljabri’s allegations.
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The Washington Post is reporting that the U.S. State Department, in a letter Thursday, responding to concerns raised by U.S. senators, called Dr. Aljabri “a valued partner” to the U.S. government and pledged to work with the White House to “resolve this situation in a manner that honours Dr. Aljabri’s service to our country.”
The court documents filed Aug. 6 did not say how Dr. Aljabri was aware of the alleged assassination threats, but he is known to be a highly valuable counterintelligence source to the United States and other Western spy agencies. He is credited with alerting U.S. authorities to bombings of Jewish synagogues in Chicago, according to the court documents.
Dr. Aljabri says in the court documents that he has information on the Crown Prince’s “corrupt dealings” and information on Mr. bin Salman’s communications with U.S. adversaries, including Russia’s dealings in Syria.
Mary-Liz Power, communications director for Public Safety Minister Bill Blair, would not comment on whether there has been recent attempts to kill Dr. Aljabri. She referred The Globe to a statement that Mr. Blair made Thursday, in response to the alleged 2018 assassination attempt of Dr. Aljabri, where he stated: “we are aware of incidents which foreign actors have attempted to monitor, intimidate or threaten Canadians and those living in Canada.”
Since 2017, the Crown Prince, who is the de facto leader of the oil-rich kingdom, had tried unsuccessfully to persuade Dr. Aljabri to return to Saudi Arabia with job offers and later threats and arrests of family members, including holding two of his children as hostages.
Canadian border security agents at the Ottawa airport intercepted the alleged Saudi hit team known as the Crown Prince’s “Tiger Squad,” which was carrying two bags of forensic tools and had experience in the cleanup of crime scenes. The court documents allege that the team tried to “avert the detection of Canadian border security by entering through separate kiosks.”
A source told The Globe that Canadian security officials had been alerted to the alleged assassination squad by Turkish authorities and other Western intelligence services.
“Like that team that travelled to Istanbul to murder Khashoggi,” the court documents said, “the Tiger Squad team assembled to kill Dr. Saad consisted of an interagency group of employees selected from across the Saudi government, including forensic DNA experts from the General Department of Criminal Evidence in the Ministry of Interior, a senior military intelligence officer with the Ministry of Defence and a diplomatic officer in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.”
Mr. Fadden said the attempted assassination, as alleged, would amount to a major breach of international relations for Saudi Arabia.
“I think it’s a clear and unambiguous violation of our sovereignty when a state sends its representatives into another state to commit a criminal act. It’s [also] a violation of international law … I think the Canadian government, if the facts are proven, should take it very seriously indeed.”
Dr. Aljabri could not be reached for comment on the latest alleged threat against him, His son, Toronto cardiologist Khalid Aljabri, would not discuss the security situation involving his father.
However, he confirmed that the FBI had warned him in January, 2018, that his father’s life was in danger and that the Crown Prince had a hit squad hunting down his father in the U.S. and Canada.
His father managed to get all but two of his eight children out of Saudi Arabia. In mid-March, Saudi Arabia seized and imprisoned Omar, 21 and Sara, 20, in what is seen as an attempt to get him to return from exile in Canada. In early May, Saad Aljabri’s brother, Abdulrahman, a U.S.-educated electrical engineer, was also arrested.
The husband of Khalid Aljabri’s sister, Hissah, was abducted by Saudi agents in Dubai in September, 2017, and rendered to Saudi Arabia where he was tortured, Khalid Aljabri said in an interview.
At the time, his sister was in Istanbul and her husband, Salem Alnuzaini, was coerced to urge her to go to the Saudi consulate in the city. Khalid Aljabri says he suspects she would have been kidnapped had she gone.
His sister is now in Canada, waiting approval for permanent-residence status.
“There is no way she is going to go back to Turkey. There is no way she is going to go back to Saudi Arabia obviously. So we think the government should do something to help her,” he said.
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