Former Saudi Official Accuses the Crown Prince of Trying to Kill Him
Former Saudi Official Accuses the Crown Prince of Trying to Kill Him
BEIRUT — A former top Saudi intelligence official publicly accused Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Thursday of sending a team of agents to Canada to kill him.
The allegation came in a lawsuit filed in United States federal court on Thursday by the former official, Saad Aljabri, who has accused Prince Mohammed of seeking to silence or kill him to stop him from undermining the prince’s relationship with the United States and the Trump administration.
The suit marks the first time a former senior Saudi official has publicly accused Prince Mohammed, the kingdom’s de facto ruler, of carrying out a widespread and sometimes violent campaign to silence critical voices.
Mr. Aljabri, who was a top aide in the Saudi Interior Ministry, now lives in self-imposed exile near Toronto. Prince Mohammed has been trying to coax him to return to Saudi Arabia and in March, Saudi Arabia detained two of Mr. Aljabri’s adult children and his brother, prompting accusations by relatives and United States officials that they were being held hostage to secure Mr. Aljabri’s return.
His lawsuit says that Saudi agents attempted to target Mr. Aljabri in Canada less than two weeks after another team of Saudi operatives killed and dismembered the dissident Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. American intelligence agencies have determined that Crown Prince Mohammed likely ordered the killing.
Mr. Aljabri’s suit contained scant evidence to support its charges, including about the alleged Canada operation, nor could they be independently verified by The New York Times.
A spokesman for the Saudi embassy in Washington did not respond to a message seeking comment, and Prince Mohammed has said that he had no prior knowledge of the operation targeting Mr. Khashoggi.
The lawsuit is the latest riposte in a years-long battle at the top of the Saudi power structure as Prince Mohammed has worked to consolidate his grip on the kingdom.
Mr. Aljabri worked for years as a top aide to former Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, who headed the Saudi Interior Ministry, which oversees domestic security and counterterrorism. That work gave Mr. Aljabri close relationships with intelligence officials from the United States and other countries.
Mr. Aljabri was fired by royal decree in 2015, before Prince Mohammed ousted Mohammed bin Nayef as crown prince and put himself next in line to the throne. Mr. Aljabri left Saudi Arabia two years later.
Mr. Aljabri has accused Prince Mohammed of using increasingly aggressive tactics to try to return him to the kingdom, including offering him a job, threatening to have him extradited on corruption charges, and arresting two of his adult children to be used as leverage.
In 2017, Saudi Arabia filed a notice through Interpol, the international police organization, asking other nations to arrest and extradite Mr. Aljabri to Saudi Arabia on corruption charges. Interpol later deemed that notice politically motivated, a violation of the organization’s rules, and removed Mr. Aljabri’s name from its system, according to Interpol documents reviewed by The Times.
Mr. Aljabri’s suit adds a number of new allegations, accusing Prince Mohammed of deploying Saudi agents in the United States to determine his whereabouts and sending the team of agents to Canada.
The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia under the Torture Victims Protection Act and the Alien Tort Statute, which allow non-Americans to sue in U.S. courts for certain crimes committed abroad.
Mr. Aljabri could not be reached for comment. In an interview, his son, Dr. Khalid Aljabri, a cardiologist also based in Canada, said his family chose to file the suit after running out of other options to secure the release of their relatives detained in the kingdom and resolve the conflict with Prince Mohammed.
“We have exhausted every single avenue for a peaceful remedy and reconciliation, to no avail,” Dr. Aljabri said. “We hope that this will help end the torment that my family is suffering.”
A trial, he said, would allow both sides to present their cases.
“We have always told the Saudis, if you have an issue, bring it to court, so now we are making it easier for them by coming to court,” Dr. Aljabri said.
Citing unnamed Saudi officials, The Wall Street Journal reported last month that Mr. Aljabri had been involved in large-scale corruption schemes to enrich himself and others, charges that were repeated by state-controlled Saudi media. Saudi officials have not responded to questions from The Times about corruption charges against Mr. Aljabri.
Some legal experts said they doubted that Mr. Aljabri’s case would make any headway, and suggested that the real aim of the suit was to get a public forum for his allegations.
“This is a long shot,” said Chimène Keitner, a professor at the University of California, Hastings, School of Law. “I don’t see a U.S. court proceeding to adjudicate these claims.”
Because neither Mr. Aljabri nor Crown Prince Mohammed are based in the United States, she said, it might be quickly dismissed on grounds that there is no direct connection to the United States. Moreover, the Saudi government would not have to respond until Prince Mohammed was formally served with the allegations — which would happen only when he comes to the United States.
Even then, Prof. Keitner said, when he travels to the United States in an official capacity he could claim immunity.
The court filing contains text messages that Mr. Aljabri says were sent to him by Prince Mohammed. In September 2017, Prince Mohammed asked him, “where should we dispatch the airplane to fetch you?”
Soon after, according to the lawsuit, Prince Mohammed threatened to use “all available means” to reach Mr. Aljabri, including “measures that would be harmful to you.”
The suit also accuses Prince Mohammed of creating a 50-man “death squad” known as the Tiger Team to go after Saudis at home and abroad whom he perceived to be a threat to his standing.
Last year, The Times reported that Crown Prince Mohammed, during the year before Mr. Khashoggi’s killing, had authorized a secret campaign to silence dissenters that included the surveillance, kidnapping, detention and torture of Saudi citizens at home and abroad. The report was based on interviews with American officials familiar with classified intelligence assessments about the efforts by the Saudi leader.
The suit alleges that a team of Saudi agents carrying forensic gear and including forensic experts arrived at an airport in Ontario in October 2018. They tried to enter on Canadian tourist visas but were turned away by Canadian border officials, the suit said.
Canadian officials have not spoken publicly about any such event.
Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, the former crown prince and Mr. Jabri’s former boss, had longstanding ties to C.I.A. leaders, especially John O. Brennan, President Obama’s C.I.A. chief.
During a trip to Riyadh in 2017, the C.I.A. director Mike Pompeo awarded Prince Mohammed bin Nayef the “George Tenet Medal” — named after President W. Bush’s C.I.A. director — apparently an award created just to bestow on the Saudi prince.
Mr. Aljabri held so many secrets, the lawsuit states, that Crown Prince Mohammed was determined to kill him.
“That combination of deep knowledge and enduring trust by top U.S. officials is why there is virtually no one Defendant bin Salman wants dead more than” Mr. Aljabri, the suit says.
Ben Hubbard reported from Beirut, and Mark Mazzetti from Washington.