Saudi Arabia’s Search, Kidnap and Disappear Program for Dissidents
A pattern is now emerging as to what happens to Saudis traveling overseas who speak out against their country. The monarchy apparently seeks them out, kidnaps them and then permanently eliminates them as potential dissenters.
One of the more significant of these was Prince Sultan bin Turki. He was the son of another Saudi royal, Prince Turki, who was forced to move to Cairo in exile after having his own arguments with the royal family. Prince Sultan was also a nephew of King Fahd.
Prince Sultan had previously moved to Switzerland and had begun speaking out publicly against corruption involving high officials and Saudi princes. There, in May 2003, he had set up the Royal Saudi Political Organisation, a group focused on exposing that corruption and seeking justice for all concerned. It has also been noted as a focal point for demanding major reforms within the Saudi government.
While there, Prince Sultan was allegedly abducted from his home in Switzerland and forcibly taken back to his original homeland.
After being pulled back to Saudi Arabia, he told the Associated Press in a phone call back in 2004 that he had been lured into a meeting at King Fahd’s Geneva palace, where two other princes were present. As the reporter noted, Prince Sultan had said, in recalling the incident, “After five minutes, five masked, heavy-built men crashed through the door, restrained me, gagged me and warned me against making any noise.” He went on to say, “Those profiting from corruption in the Saudi government felt that my activities were a threat to them, and they agreed to eliminate or abduct me.”
He was also drugged as part of the assault.
Prince Sultan eventually emerged in Riyadh, where newly discovered medical records from King Faisal hospital there show that the prince had been aspirated and intubated in Geneva before being medevac’d out to Saudi Arabia. Others who were with him at the time of the assault were also kidnapped and taken along on the same flight to Riyadh. Their passports were seized. Their phones and other electronic devices were first seized and then returned soon after with all photos of their alleged kidnapping and the Prince’s kidnapping deleted.
While in Geneva, the Saudi ambassador reportedly arrived at the Prince’s Hotel Intercontinental suite. He warned those from the Prince’s entourage to get out and scatter as they might be hunted down now that the Prince was back in Saudi Arabia.
According to reports, after Prince Sultan’s hospital
stay, he was transferred to his house under heavy security and prevented from either receiving guests or communicating.
A separate report on the website of the London-based Movement for Islamic Reform in Arabia backed up Prince Sultan’s story. It claims the kidnapping was orchestrated in part by none other than Crown Prince Abdullah and that it involved the use of Saudi planes that the Swiss government had provided with special access.
The Saudi government denied what Prince Sultan claimed had happened. Far from learning any lesson – at least from the Saudi government’s side of this – the Prince responded by taking his alleged abductors to court in a highly public legal case, challenging the official story of the case from the Saudi government and seeking justice for what he referred to as a brazen kidnapping.
Eventually, after receiving permission to leave on a flight to Cairo to visit his father, Prince Turki, on February 1, 2016, Prince Sultan was apparently “caught” for the last time and has not been heard from since. That he suspected bad things might happen to him sometime soon was not in doubt, as he had joked to a reporter on that Cairo trip, “If you don’t find me, they have taken me to Riyadh.”
A second Saudi royal who is now missing is Prince Turki bin Bandar, a former major in the Saudi police force. His problems began with a public disagreement with the Saudi royal family, an argument over a disputed inheritance that reportedly ended up with Prince Bandar being arrested and imprisoned.
He later moved to France, where he set up shop criticizing the Saudi government publicly and sending out numerous messages and videos about his position on social media. Like Prince Sultan, Prince Bandar had been concerned about reports that the Saudi government planned to kidnap and/or assassinate him. He had even provided a note to a friend saying just that. Then, in late 2015, he emigrated to Morocco, thinking it might be a safe place of refuge. He was wrong. According to the Moroccan newspaper Al Sabah, after Prince Bandar had made plans to depart Morocco to return to a home in France, he was first arrested and held at Morocco’s Sala prison. Then he was allegedly deported to Saudi Arabia at the request of the government.
A third prince, Saud bin Saif al-nasr, was yet another dissident who openly spoke out against the government. He had stirred up a hornets’ nest of anger from the Saudi government after a year-long campaign demanding the prosecution of senior Saudi officials for backing the overthrow of former Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi. In September 2015, he even went so far as to call for a violent overthrow of the Saudi monarchy. After letters of his were published stating this – and after he endorsed them as accurate – he also disappeared.
A fourth individual, Prince Khalid bin Farhan, was yet another Saudi exile who spoke out publicly to advocate for political reforms at home. He also feared he would be taken by Saudi authorities and forcibly returned to his original home country. His abduction apparently happened when he met with a Russian-italian business consortium for a possible business transaction. He ended up being convinced the deal was real and ended up getting on a plane to Italy thinking he was going there to sign off on the final contract. According to Prince Farhan, he was instead kidnapped and taken back to Riyadh.
Prince Farhan eventually surfaced again, apparently free, but then, after he filed a criminal case against his abductors in Swiss courts, the Saudis had apparently had enough. In 2016, he was somehow convinced to take a Saudi government plane from Paris to Cairo to visit his ailing father. He and his entire 18-member entourage ended up flying to Riyadh instead. The prince was dragged from the plane, screaming, in the hands of heavily armed guards. He has also never been heard from or seen since.
Based on the evidence gathered to date, there are likely many other Saudi opposition leaders who have been treated to even more harsh treatment “behind the scenes” by the Saudi government. With information beginning to leak more often about what happened to these dissidents – as well as about the corrupt and criminal leadership at the top of the Saudi government – perhaps there will, at some point, be enough truth emerging for demands for justice to turn into actions.
Until that time, this will be the pattern for Saudi dissidents: The long arm of the royal family will reach out and grab those who disagree with them, no matter where they are. If they continue their opposition speech, they, too, will eventually all disappear.