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'What took you so long?': MBS critic in Norway warned of Saudi threat to life

Rights activist Iyad el-Baghdadi tells MEE he was taken to a secure location by Norwegian police after a tipoff from another intelligence agency
Baghdadi believed threats to his life was related to his investigation on how Saudi Arabia may have hacked the phone of Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos (Twitter)

Tipped off by a partner agency, Norweigian authorities warned prominent human rights activist Iyad el-Baghdadi, who has sought asylum in the country, that he faced an imminent threat to his life from Saudi Arabia last month, he told Middle East Eye on Tuesday.

'My first reaction was what took you so long'

- Iyad El-Baghdadi, human rights advocate

Baghdadi, an outspoken critic of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, said the threat which the authorities warned him about, first reported by The Guardian, "remained vague".

But he told MEE that he believes it could be linked to pieces he has written recently suggesting that the kingdom may have hacked the phone of Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos.

The Guardian reported that it was the CIA that first briefed Norwegian authorities.

Baghdadi said he had not been told who briefed them, but said he had a "hunch" it was the CIA. The CIA did not respond to MEE's requests for comment on Tuesday.

The human rights advocate has also been vocal following the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi who was killed by Saudi operatives in the kingdom's consulate in Istanbul last October. The CIA has concluded that Khashoggi's murder was probably ordered by the Saudi crown prince, which Saudi officials have repeatedly denied.

The Saudi embassy in the US did not respond to MEE's requests for comment on Tuesday.

Born in Kuwait, Baghdadi is a Palestinian who was raised in the United Arab Emirates. He subsequently fled the UAE and sought refuge in Norway after he began translating Arabic chants that were sung during the 2011 Arab Spring revolutions. 

Since then, Baghdadi amassed thousands of followers on Twitter and became a human rights advocate. 

Baghdadi told MEE that in late April two plainclothes Norwegian Police Security Service officers arrived at his apartment and took him to a secure location.

"They had been standing outside for a while, secured the area, and then came to my door. The officers then told me that there was a team behind us to make sure no is following us," he said.

'Secure location'

The officers took Baghdadi to a "secure location" where he said he was briefed on the threat to his life.

"My first reaction was 'What took you so long?'" said Baghdadi who receives threats from pro-Saudi Twitter users daily for his vocal criticism of the Saudi crown prince.

He said the first apartment authorities took him to was soundproof and "setup in a way that they can know nobody is snooping".

"[The] first thing they told me was that I was a target and said that they received the threat from a partner intelligence agency. We spoke for nearly two and half hours and they told me everything they knew - it is clearly related to the work that I have been doing," he said.  

The Norwegian Police Security Service, the country's equivalent to the FBI, told the Guardian it did not comment on assessments made "pertaining to individual's security".

The CIA is legally bound to pass on threats it picks up to provide "warning regarding threats to specific individuals or groups of intentional killing, serious bodily injury, and kidnapping", according to its own directive.