Saudi Arabia has been pressing Canada to extradite a former top Saudi intelligence officer now living in Toronto, sources say.
Saad Aljabri, who held a cabinet-rank intelligence post under deposed crown prince Mohammed bin Nayef, has been living in Toronto since a 2017 palace coup in Riyadh that left Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman – known by his initials MBS – as the de facto leader of Saudi Arabia. MBS is officially next in line to succeed his 84-year-old father, King Salman.
Canadian sources say the 61-year-old Mr. Aljabri has vast counterterrorism experience and a deep knowledge of some of Saudi Arabia’s most sensitive information, including the foreign bank accounts and financial assets of senior members of the Saudi royal family.
The Globe and Mail has learned that the Saudis attempted to have Mr. Aljabri arrested by issuing a “red notice” through Interpol, the international co-operation organization for police, in late 2017. Riyadh later asked Canada to extradite him in the fall of 2019 even though Ottawa does not have an extradition treaty with the kingdom. The Globe is not revealing the names of the sources because they were not authorized to speak about the sensitive diplomatic and national-security matter.
A visiting Saudi delegation in 2018 also pressed Canada to extradite Mr. Aljabri, sources say. Back then it was not publicly known that he had sought refuge in Canada.
The friction between Canada and Saudi Arabia over Mr. Aljabri, whom the Crown Prince regards as a threat, represents yet another source of conflict between the two countries. Ottawa and Riyadh suffered a major disruption in diplomatic ties nearly two years ago – a rupture that remains largely unrepaired.
Justice Department spokesperson Ian McLeod would not comment on the matter. “As extradition requests are confidential state-to-state communications, we cannot comment on the existence of extradition requests for specific individuals until the request is made public by the courts,” he said in a statement.
Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not have an immediate response when asked for comment.
Although Canada did not accede to the Saudi pressure campaign, sources tell The Globe that Canadian authorities have done little else to help Mr. Aljabri, who is considered a high-level national-security asset by British and U.S. intelligence.
Two of Mr. Aljabri’s adult children are currently under Saudi detention in what appears to be an attempt to lure him back from exile in Canada.
Ottawa would not facilitate quick visas for Mr. Aljabri’s family to travel to this country, sources say, and would not make representations to Saudi Arabia and the U.S. government to help seek the release of the two children in Saudi custody.
As a top-ranking Saudi security official, sources say, Mr. Aljabri intervened on Canada’s behalf to prevent the public beheading of Saudi-Canadian Mohamed Kohail, who was accused of killing a man during a 2008 schoolyard brawl. A sentence of 200 lashes for his brother, Sultan, was also commuted.
However, sources say authorities at the highest levels of the Canadian government, including the national-security team advising the Prime Minister, have followed a hands-off policy toward Mr. Aljabri and would not fast-track visas for his family to come to Canada for fear of damaging relations with Saudi Arabia.
It also took many months before Canadian Security Intelligence Service agents would sit down and interview Mr. Aljabri, sources say, even though agents of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency had numerous debriefings with Mr. Aljabri from the time he arrived in Toronto.
In September, 2017, Saudi Arabia asked Interpol to issue a red notice, a worldwide request for law enforcement to arrest a person for extradition or surrender, for Mr. Aljabri. The red notice, which soon caught the attention of Canada Border Service Agency officials, is no longer in effect because it was deemed by Interpol to be politically motivated, sources say.
In late 2017, Mr. Aljabri’s wife, Nadyah, and two sons were stopped by authorities at an Istanbul airport and prevented from flying to Toronto to join her husband. The family then flew to Boston, without any troubles from U.S. Customs, and travelled to Canada several days later.
Again, Ms. Aljabri’s wife and two sons were stopped by CBSA officers on the family’s arrival at Pearson International Airport when they were detained and questioned for about three hours, sources say.
Her daughter, Hissah, and two of Hissah’s children, were also flagged in Istanbul when they tried to fly to Toronto in September, 2018, after the red notice had been rescinded. A high-profile Canadian law firm asked Ottawa to facilitate her entry, a source at the company said, and was told she would have to fill out an online application. She is now in Canada. The Globe is not identifying the name of the source or the law firm because they did not want to publicly discuss a client’s personal situation.
Mr. Aljabri managed to get all but two of his eight children out of Saudi Arabia. In mid-March, Saudi security forces seized and imprisoned Omar, 21, and Sarah, 20, in what is seen as an attempt to get him to return from Canada. In early May, Saad Aljabri’s brother Abdulrahman was also arrested.
Sources say the Crown Prince has reached out to the onetime senior intelligence official to seek his return in exchange for allowing his two children to leave the country. In those conversations, Mr. Aljabri has repeatedly assured the Crown Prince that he would not do anything to harm Saudi Arabia’s interests, according to the sources.
Before he came to Canada, Mr. Aljabri had been teaching at Harvard University but decided to move to Toronto because he was worried that U.S. President Donald Trump and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, were too close to the Crown Prince, and that they may not have guaranteed his safety.
Thomas Juneau, an assistant professor at the University of Ottawa’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, said the Saudis have been antagonistic toward citizens in exile whom they wish to control.
“Generally speaking, the Saudis have been very aggressive in pressuring any kind of dissident abroad, or a former member of the regime … in Aljabri’s case, one of the assumptions is he has access to a lot of information – in which case, given how MBS operates, it’s not surprising that MBS wants to suppress that.”
Prof. Juneau said he’s not sure Canada could actually do much to help extricate Mr. Aljabri’s children from Saudi Arabia. “We’re in no position to pressure Saudi Arabia to release them,” he said. “We could issue a statement [but] that would make no difference at all.”
Relations between Canada and Saudi Arabia have been strained since August, 2018, when then-foreign affairs minister Chrystia Freeland tweeted that Saudi Arabia should “immediately release” imprisoned human-rights activists.
The Saudis were enraged, calling the tweet “blatant interference in the kingdom’s domestic affairs.” Riyadh recalled its ambassador, Naif bin Bandar Al-Sudairi, expelled Canadian ambassador Dennis Horak and ordered thousands of Saudi students studying in Canada to return home.
Sources say Canada’s refusal to send Mr. Aljabri back was a contributing factor to the Saudi diplomatic reaction – as was the inability of Mr. Al-Sudairi to get any high-level meeting with Canadian foreign-affairs officials.
Mr. Aljabri has reason to be fearful of a return to Saudi Arabia. Mr. bin Sayef, the former crown prince and Interior Ministry chief, was arrested in mid-March as were multiple Interior Ministry officials, according to The New York Times. In October, 2018, the CIA said MBS ordered the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the kingdom’s Istanbul embassy. The Crown Prince has denied that he ordered the killing.
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