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Washington lauds ex-Saudi official suing MBS in rare rebuke of Riyadh

Work of former intelligence chief Saad al-Jabri 'helped save American and Saudi lives,' US State Department tells MEE
Mike Pompeo meeting Mohammed bin Salman
Mike Pompeo meeting with MBS in Riyadh on 16 October 2018, two weeks after Jamal Khashoggi's murder (Reuters)
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Washington

In an implicit and rare rebuke of Saudi Arabia, the US State Department has praised the kingdom's former intelligence chief, Saad al-Jabri, who is locked in a legal and political battle with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Jabri is suing the crown prince, known as MBS, in a US court over an alleged plot to assassinate him in Canada. The lawsuit also cites the arbitrary arrests of Jabri's two children - Omar and Sarah - reportedly carried out in order to lure him back to the kingdom.

"Saad al-Jabri was a valued partner to the United States on countering terrorism. Saad's work with the United States helped save American and Saudi lives," a State Department spokesperson told MEE on Friday.

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"Many US government officials, both current and former, know and respect Saad."

The comment echoes a letter sent by Acting Assistant Secretary Ryan Kaldahl to Senator Patrick Leahy, lauding Jabri and expressing concern about the mistreatment of the ex-spy chief's family in the kingdom.

"Any persecution of Dr al-Jabri's family members is unacceptable," Kaldahl wrote. 

"The Department has repeatedly requested the Saudi Arabian government to clarify the status and nature of al-Jabri children's detention, and will continue to urge their immediate release, absent sufficient and compelling justification."

Leahy, a senior Democrat, had written to the State Department in July expressing "urgent concern" over the "abduction" of Jabri's children. His letter was also signed by fellow Senate Democrats Tim Kaine and Chris Van Hollen, as well as Republican Senator Marco Rubio.

Kaldahl's response on Thursday, which also cited efforts to free US citizens detained in the kingdom, coincided with Jabri's lawsuit. 

'Nightmare for my family'

Jabri worked for former Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, who was toppled by MBS in 2017 shortly after a visit by President Donald Trump to the kingdom.

The intelligence chief fled the country before MBS was officially promoted, out of fear of reprisals against perceived allies of former rivals. 

In his lawsuit, he alleges that two weeks after Saudi government officials murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the kingdom's consulate in Istanbul in 2018, MBS dispatched a hit team known as "the Tiger Squad" to "murder and assassinate" the ex-intelligence official.

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"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 legal complaint reads.

"The kill team was thwarted by attentive Canadian border security officials who were suspicious of their behavior at an airport checkpoint."

In an interview with CNN on Friday, Jabri's son, Khalid, who lives in Canada, said the family filed the lawsuit as a last resort against the Saudi government.

"Over the past few years we've exhausted every possible avenue for quiet diplomacy and reconciliation to no avail," the younger Jabri said.

"At the end, we were pushed into pursuing accountability and justice in a US Federal Court. We hope that this current lawsuit will help end the torment, free Omar and Sarah and unite them with us, protect my dad and [end] this nightmare for my family."