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Saudi hit squad sent to Canada to kill former intel official, lawsuit alleges

Lawsuit claims that Saudi crown prince dispatched a 50-person 'Tiger squad' to murder ex-intel officer Saad al-Jabri on US or Canadian soil
Mohammed bin Salman still reportedly works to hunt down Jabri, even obtaining a fatwa from Saudi clerics that endorses his killing (AFP/File photo)
Mohammed bin Salman still reportedly works to hunt down Jabri, even obtaining a fatwa from Saudi clerics that endorses his killing (AFP/File photo)
By in
Washington

Saudi Arabia has been accused of dispatching a group of hitmen to Canada to kill former intelligence official Saad al-Jabri, who is living in exile and reportedly resisting pressure from Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) to return to the kingdom.

According to the lawsuit, seen by Middle East Eye, Jabri is seeking unspecified damages from MBS, alleging the crown prince "orchestrated an ongoing multi-year conspiracy by a Saudi government-sanctioned 'death squad' to torture and assassinate" the ex-intel officer. 

Jabri, who is characterised in the suit as a "trusted partner of US intelligence officials", claims MBS dispatched a 50-person kill team dubbed "the Tiger Squad" in October 2018 - just two weeks after the murder of Saudi dissident and Middle East Eye columnist Jamal Khashoggi.

"The 'Tiger Squad' that was deployed to Canada included forensic personnel experienced with the clean-up of crime scenes, who carried with them two bags of forensic tools," the suit alleges. "The kill team was thwarted by attentive Canadian border security officials who were suspicious of their behavior at an airport checkpoint."

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Jabri, who was reportedly a key go-between for Western spy agencies, sought refuge in Canada in 2017, just days before his former boss, Mohammed bin Nayef, was ousted by MBS, his younger cousin, in a palace coup.

Middle East Eye 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".

The lawsuit alleges that Jabri was targeted because of his close ties with the US intelligence community, "intimate" knowledge of MBS's activities, and the potential to undermine his influence with and support from the Trump administration.

"That combination of deep knowledge and enduring trust by top US officials is why there is virtually no one defendant bin Salman wants dead more than Dr Saad," the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit outlines three basic steps in which the attempted killing has played out: luring Jabri back to Saudi Arabia, hunting him down in the US, and sending a hit squad to kill him.

"Each aspect of this attempt has had one ultimate objective: to kill Dr Saad and thereby limit the US government’s access to a key partner with unique knowledge," the lawsuit said.

Fatwa to kill Jabri

The Tiger Squad was created after Jabri refused a request from MBS to use the Mahabith, Riyadh's secret police which at the time was controlled by Jabri and bin Nayef, to extradite a Saudi prince living in Europe. The prince had criticised MBS's father, King Salman, on social media.

The group's activities are directed by MBS himself, along with former Saudi royal court adviser Saud al-Qahtani, former deputy head of military intelligence Ahmed Al-Asiri, and top aide to MBS Bader al-Asaker. All three are named as defendants in the lawsuit.

The lawsuit alleges that the squad of killers flew to Toronto with two bags of forensic tools. The personnel included those with knowledge of cleaning up crime scenes and an instructor - Mishal Fahad al-Sayed - who worked on an academic panel alongside Salah Muhammad al-Tubaigy, the man who used a bone saw to dismember Khashoggi.

Khashoggi was killed by Saudi government agents at the kingdom's consulate in Istanbul in October 2018.

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Saudi officials initially insisted that he left the building alive, before eventually admitting to the killing and saying it was an unauthorised operation of which the crown prince had no advance knowledge.

According to the lawsuit, border officials at the airport thwarted the squad's attempts during a secondary screening - catching the individuals in a lie.

When asked individually if they knew each other, the members of the hit squad said no. Yet, after going through their luggage, the officials came across a photograph that proved otherwise.

Despite this, the suit says MBS still works to hunt down Jabri, even obtaining a fatwa - a religious legal opinion - from Saudi clerics that endorses his killing.

"Having failed to finish the job in Canada, Defendant bin Salman continues in his attempted extrajudicial killing to this day," the lawsuit says.

Targeting family members

The complaint also says the recent disappearance of Jabri's two children are attempts by Tiger Squad operatives to lure the ex-intel officer to locations "where he could be killed".

In March, Jabri's two adult children - who had been barred from leaving the kingdom - were arrested at their Riyadh home. In May, Jabri's brother was also arrested. None have contacted their relatives, according to Jabri's son, Khalid, who is based in Canada.

According to Human Rights Watch, no charges have been laid against the three and no reason has been given for their detention.

'That combination of deep knowledge and enduring trust by top US officials is why there is virtually no one defendant bin Salman wants dead more than Dr Saad'

- Lawsuit

Last month, four US senators wrote a letter to President Trump expressing their concern for the "enforced disappearance" of the two children.

"The Saudi government is believed to be using the children as leverage to try to force their father’s return to the kingdom from Canada, where he resides," they wrote, adding that the US had a "moral obligation" to help the family.

According to the lawsuit, the Saudi government also tried to use Interpol to help find and detain Jabri, an effort which the international crime control agency rejected.

Sources told MEE earlier this year that, shortly before Jabri went to Canada, he spent a brief period in Boston.

The lawsuit says MBS sent a "network of covert agents" to the US city, where they came across his son and family friends.

The lawsuit was filed in the US District Court for the District of Columbia under the Torture Victims Protection Act and the Alien Tort Statute "for MBS's role in the attempted murder and torture of Dr. Saad".