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Saudi Arabia's MBS files motion to dismiss 'Tiger Squad' lawsuit in US court

Ex-Saudi intelligence official Saad al-Jabri filed the suit earlier this year, alleging that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attempted to have him killed in 2018
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman arrives at the Future Investment Initiative FII conference in the Saudi capital Riyadh on 24 October 2018 (AFP/File photo)

Lawyers representing Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman have filed a motion to dismiss a lawsuit accusing the de facto leader of ordering a "hit squad” to assassinate a former senior intelligence official now living in Canada. 

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Lawyer Michael Kellogg filed the motion in a US district court in Washington late on Monday, arguing that bin Salman, known as MBS, was immune from the legal action. 

The motion stated that Saad al-Jabri, who now resides in Toronto, had filed the suit in an attempt to divert attention from "massive theft". 

"Aljabri’s complaint is steeped in drama, including an introduction that likens the crown prince to one of Shakespeare’s greatest villains," the filing by MBS's lawyers reads.

"But, regardless of its merits as literature, the complaint fails as a legal pleading."

'The Tiger Squad'

Once a trusted top adviser to MBS's rival, Mohammed bin Nayef, and formerly the kingdom's interior minister, Jabri had deep ties to western intelligence agencies and is described by some observers as the most wanted Saudi outside of the country. 

Jabri fled the kingdom in 2017 just before bin Nayef was put under house arrest and replaced as crown prince by his 31-year-old cousin. 

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Arriving first in Germany, and then the US, Jabri fled to Canada in 2018, where he claims MBS dispatched a 50-person kill team dubbed "the Tiger Squad" to take him out. 

The incident allegedly took place in October of that year - just two weeks after the murder of Saudi journalist and Middle East Eye columnist Jamal Khashoggi.

MEE first reported in March that after fleeing Riyadh in 2017, Jabri was "chased" by Saudi authorities who were willing "to do anything to get him back".

Jabri filed a US lawsuit in August over the alleged assassination attempt, seeking unspecified damages from MBS. Specifically, he alleged the crown prince "orchestrated an ongoing multi-year conspiracy by a Saudi government-sanctioned 'death squad' to torture and assassinate" the ex-intelligence officer. 

MBS and other Saudi officials have denied the allegations. 

'This case does not belong in federal court'

The US court issued a summons for bin Salman to appear in court not long after the lawsuit was filed. The summons also called for 12 other individuals to appear before the court, including some top Saudi officials, as well as two American residents: Layla Abuljadayel, who lives in Massachusetts, and Yousef al-Rajhi, who lives in Virginia.

Now the Saudi government is calling for the suit to be dropped, accusing Jabri of making "bogus" claims. 

'[The] plaintiff can say whatever he wants to the newspapers. But this case does not belong in federal court. Aljabri cannot establish personal jurisdiction over the crown prince'

- Motion to dismiss filed by MBS's lawyers 

In the motion filed on Monday, MBS accused Jabri and his associates of misspending or outright stealing some $11bn from a Saudi counterterrorism fund and that Jabri was involved in funnelling the money out of the country. 

"The flaws in this complaint are so apparent and run so deep that it can only be regarded as an attempt to divert attention from [the] plaintiff’s massive theft," stated the filing.

"[The] plaintiff can say whatever he wants to the newspapers. But this case does not belong in federal court. Aljabri cannot establish personal jurisdiction over the crown prince. He cannot establish subject-matter jurisdiction in this court. And he cannot state a single claim on the merits."

Jurisdiction was a large piece of MBS's motion, with lawyers stressing that even if Jabri's claims were true "he does not and cannot allege that the supposed attempt on his life in Canada was caused by any conduct in the United States". 

Therefore, lawyers argued, the US federal court does not have jurisdiction over the alleged incident, as it is over a foreign individual accused of attacks on foreign soil.  

Part of Jabri's lawsuit does, however, allege that MBS used a network of agents in the US to hunt him down. But the crown prince's lawyers have argued that the only evidence offered is that individuals spoke to Jabri’s family members and acquaintances.

The lawyers also argued that there is no evidence the crown prince ever spoke with the purported agents.

"Three defendants allegedly asked about the location of Aljabri’s wife for the purpose of arranging a marriage with Aljabri’s daughter," the filing reads.

It goes on to say: "Canada, where Aljabri resides, and Saudi Arabia, where he is a citizen, have a stronger connection to this suit than the United States."

'Status-based immunity'

The crown prince also asserts that the case should be dropped over foreign official immunity, his lawyers said in Monday's filing.

"The crown prince is the king’s son and designated successor. Together with the king, he sits at the apex of Saudi Arabia’s government. He is entitled to status-based immunity from any suit in US court."

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The lawyers also noted that Saudi Arabia's US embassy made a request for MBS's immunity from the US State Department in October and that the department "has advised that it remains under consideration". 

Even if the court were to find Jabri’s allegations true, MBS "is charged by Royal Order with ‘tak(ing) whatever measures deemed necessary’ to protect national security and root out corruption, which includes pursuing massive thefts from an antiterrorism fund," his lawyers said.

Meanwhile, Jabri has alleged that MBS and his associates violated the US Torture Victim Protection Act, the US Alien Tort Statute and international law by attempting an extrajudicial killing.

MBS's lawyers rebutted, saying since Jabri "remains alive, and does not allege that he suffered any physical assault or confrontation in 2018 or otherwise", the statutes concerning extrajudicial killings do not apply. 

"As a matter of plain language, an inchoate attempt to kill someone is not an 'extrajudicial killing' that is actionable under the (act)," they wrote.

"Here, Aljabri alleges that the attempt on his life occurred in Canada and was directed from Saudi Arabia … Adequate remedies are available to Aljabri in both countries, yet he 'has neither alleged nor established that (he) has ever pursued and/or exhausted' those remedies."

The US court has yet to respond to the defence lawyers' claims.