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Saudi dissident warned by Canada that he is 'potential target' for Gulf kingdom

Exile Omar Abdulaziz, who was close to murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi, told by Canadian police to take precautions
Abdulaziz told MEE that Saudi agents had attempted to lure him into his country's consulate in Canada months before the killing of his friend Khashoggi (MEE/Jillian Kestler-D'Amours)

An exiled Saudi activist said on Sunday that he had received a warning from Canadian police that he was a potential target of authorities in the kingdom, and that he should take precautions to protect himself. 

Omar Abdulaziz, 29, told the UK's Guardian newspaper that while he was aware of similar threats in the past, this is the first time he had received a message from Canadian police with “credible information about a possible plan to harm him”.

Abdulaziz was in contact with Jamal Khashoggi shortly before the prominent Saudi journalist, a columnist for Middle East Eye, was brutally murdered inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October 2018.

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In December 2018, Abdulaziz told MEE that he may have come close to Khashoggi’s fate months before the journalist's death, when two Saudi government agents came to Montreal, the Canadian city Abdulaziz has called home for almost a decade, to convince him to return to the kingdom.

“[The Canadian authorities] received some information regarding my situation that I might be a potential target,” Abdulaziz told the Guardian.

“MBS (Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman) and his group or - I don’t know – his team, they want to harm me. They want to do something, but I don’t know whether it’s assassination, kidnapping, I don’t know – but something's not OK for sure.”

An attorney for Abdulaziz told the newspaper that the new warning was “formal and conveyed with a clear sense of urgency and advice to take precautions”.

Phone hacked

Abdulaziz was granted asylum in Canada in 2014, and has since been tweeting and posting videos criticising the policies of the ruling family and the crown prince, particularly the crackdown on his opponents which began in 2017. 

He has also spoken publicly about Saudi Arabia's use of internet trolls on Twitter and his own fight against them. 

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Abdulaziz was one of several Saudi dissidents whose phones were hacked in 2018 by a network believed to be linked to the Saudi government. 

The spyware, called Pegasus, was developed by Israeli cybersecurity firm NSO Group and used by Saudi Arabia to target prominent dissidents and critics of the crown prince in particular.

Several members of Abdulaziz’s family were arrested in Saudi Arabia following the hacking attempt.