US considering legal immunity for Saudi crown prince in alleged assassination plot
The US is considering granting Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman legal immunity in a lawsuit which accuses the royal of attempting to assassinate a high-level intelligence officer, the Washington Post reported on Monday.
According to the Post, the Saudi government has requested that bin Salman, also known as MBS, be shielded by the US government from liability in a case filed earlier this year by Saad al-Jabri, a former interior ministry official and adviser to former Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef.
Jabri, who is characterised in the legal filing as a "trusted partner of US intelligence officials", claims that 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.
According to the Post, the State Department sent a list of questions to Jabri's lawyers that requested their legal opinion over whether the US should grant Saudi Arabia's request for immunity.
The newspaper reported that a State Department recommendation could also lead to the dismissal of the prince as a defendant in other cases recently filed in the US, including a lawsuit which seeks discovery over Khashoggi's murder.
US President Donald Trump, who has less than a month left in office, has been a strong and vocal supporter of the crown prince.
Trump has avoided criticising MBS over the kingdom's human rights abuses, shied away from placing blame on the young royal for the killing of Khashoggi, and also blocked congressional efforts to censure the Saudi government.
Jabri's eldest son, Khalid, said US support for the Saudi claim could pave the way for the kingdom to pursue future assassination attempts on foreign soil.
"If granted, the U.S. would essentially be granting MBS immunity for conduct that succeeded in killing Jamal Khashoggi and failed to kill my dad," Khalid al-Jabri told the Washington Post.
"Lack of accountability is one thing, but allowing impunity through immunity is like issuing a license to kill."
Jabri, who was reportedly a key go-between for western spy agencies, sought refuge in Canada in 2017, just days before his former boss, bin Nayef, was ousted by MBS, in a palace coup.
Middle East Eye first reported in March that after fleeing from Riyadh in 2017, Jabri was "chased" by Saudi authorities who were willing "to do anything to get him back".
Since fleeing the kingdom, Riyadh has issued Interpol red notices seeking his return - which have since been dismissed by the agency as political - and urged other countries to send him back to the kingdom, accusing the former intelligence officer of corruption.
The lawsuit asserts that MBS ordered the detention of two of al-Jabri's children, who have gone missing from their home in the capital, Riyadh, while other relatives have also been arrested and tortured "all in an effort to bait Dr Saad back to Saudi Arabia to be killed".
Earlier this month, MBS's lawyers requested that the judge handling the lawsuit dismiss the case, accusing Jabri of stealing $11bn from a Saudi counterterrorism fund that the ex-intel official managed from 2001 to 2015.
"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 Plaintiff’s massive theft," MBS's lawyers said.
A response from Jabri’s lawyers is due after 1 January. They are expected to argue that MBS is a prince and not the country's king, and therefore should not be granted immunity.
This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.