Canada needs to act on Saudis’ targeting of dissidents

The release of a CIA report holding Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman responsible for the brutal death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018 matters to Canadians, because the same sort of thing can happen here. We’ve already seen the evidence.

This contribution was published on The Ottawa Citizen on March 2, 2021

THE OTTAWA CITIZEN – As the Biblical tale goes, Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” While they were there, Cain killed Abel. Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” “I don’t know,” Cain replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

And so unfolded humanity’s first murder, and worst-kept secret, related in Genesis. With only four people on the planet at the time, this was not exactly a whodunit to challenge Hercule Poirot or Sherlock Holmes.

Today’s worst-kept secret is who was behind the brutal murder and assassination of Saudi dissident/journalist/American resident Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul in 2018. Khashoggi, you’ll remember, entered the Saudi consulate there on Oct. 2 to get documents for his upcoming marriage, but never came out.

Instead, Khashoggi was killed by Saudi security officials, who had flown to Turkey for that express purpose, and his body was subsequently dismembered. Suspicion immediately fell on Mohammed bin Salman (also known as MBS), Crown Prince and next in line for the Saudi throne. The prince denied any involvement and the Saudi government conveniently found some “rogue” officers to punish.

Now who’s the rogue, MBS?

The U.S. government last week took the extraordinary step of releasing a CIA report written six weeks after the brutal crime, in which the agency stated that MBS “approved” the assassination. Not surprisingly, the Kingdom says the CIA findings do not have any merit.

Many will be skeptical of anything put out by the CIA – or any other intelligence body – but this is huge. A future head of state of a key U.S. ally has been found to have arranged the killing of a U.S. resident/Saudi dissident. This is already leading to awkward questions about the consequences to American-Saudi relations. The timing of this revelation by the Biden administration (Trump had a bizarre lovefest with MBS) is not a coincidence.

Should Canada care? Yes, because MBS, whose initials now stand for “Mr. Bone Saw,” appears to have tried the same tactic here less than two weeks after the Khashoggi slaughter. Former senior Saudi intelligence official Dr. Saad Al Jabry (full disclosure: I met him several times in Riyadh while I was at CSIS) alleges that a similar hit squad was sent to kill him on Oct. 18, 2018. The Saudis deny that too.

Meanwhile, The Toronto Star reported last week that a Saudi PhD student in Montreal, Ahmed Alharby, who had sought asylum in Canada in 2019 and had publicly criticized the Saudi regime on social media, suddenly returned to Saudi Arabia earlier this month, whereupon a new Twitter account was created under his name, featuring a prominent image of MBS.

Smell fishy? This all smacks of regime crackdown on dissidents, wherever they may be (there is also the case of an Australian-Saudi who is in the same boat in Morocco). In other words, MBS and his minions do not seem to think that laws apply to them, and are targeting whomever they see as regime opponents, wherever they may be and whatever their citizenship or residency.

What is Canada doing about this?

It is hard to say. The best we have had so far from Public Safety Canada is “We are aware of the situation.” I imagine my former colleagues at CSIS and friends at the RCMP are also “aware.” There may be efforts to get to the bottom of all this.

But shouldn’t the Trudeau government at least be showing its displeasure in public? Maybe punt a Saudi diplomat or two? Bring someone home from our embassy in Riyadh? Is our relationship with the Kingdom that important? In a rapidly changing world, where everyone is moving to green sources of energy, a country that has little to offer but crude oil would seem to be of lesser significance, no?

The bottom line is that a sovereign state flouted international laws, probably sent a hit squad to kill someone on our soil and is harassing students. A much more vigorous reply is required, Prime Minister.

Read More About Saudi Arabia

What should Canada do with Saudi Arabia?

Episode 125 – Three years ago a Saudi ‘Tiger Team’ tried to assassinate a high-ranking former intel official now living in Canada. What should Canada do now? Borealis is rejoined by former CSIS agent Al Treddenick to discuss this.

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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