National Post (National Edition)

Shadowy Saudi actions play out on Canadian soil

Kingdom targets critics living abroad

- TYLER DAWSON National Post Twitter: tylerrdaws­on

The disappeara­nce of a Saudi activist after a visit to the Ottawa embassy, and the widening of a legal battle between the Kingdom and a former Saudi spymaster from U.S. to Canadian courts, mark a shadowy Saudi power struggle playing out within Canada's borders, even as the internatio­nal community looks more closely at Saudi actions.

Saudi Arabia has long sought out and pressured dissidents abroad, culminatin­g in the assassinat­ion and dismemberm­ent of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October 2018.

Canadians are now learning that Saudi's power struggles and suppressio­n are also playing out here.

Michael Chong, the Conservati­ve foreign affairs critic, said in a statement they want to see the Liberals create a “robust plan to counter foreign influence operations on Canadian soil.”

“The government's response to Canadians facing intimidati­on and harassment by foreign agents is wholly inadequate,” the statement said.

Chong's office declined an interview request from the National Post. Bill Blair, the public safety minister, has previously said: “We are aware of incidents in which foreign actors have attempted to monitor, intimidate or threaten Canadians and those living in Canada.”

“It is completely unacceptab­le and we will never tolerate foreign actors threatenin­g Canada's national security or the safety of our citizens and residents,” Blair said.

Since 2017, Saudi Arabia has been experienci­ng internal drama, including a palace coup that saw the line of succession reorganize­d, the mass arrest of senior Saudis, the repression of dissidents, and the disappeara­nce of family and friends linked to dissidents who have sheltered abroad.

Last Friday, the United States released its classified report on the death of Khashoggi, linking it to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, next in line for the throne. In the days since, there has been an escalation in the drama playing out between Saudi Arabia and Western nations.

On Monday, the Post reported the Saudi government was launching a new investigat­ion against blogger Raif Badawi and his Canadian wife Ensaf Haidar.

Thomas Juneau, a professor in the faculty of Public and Internatio­nal Affairs at the University of Ottawa, said while there has been a notable change in tone — frostier under the Biden administra­tion than the Trump administra­tion — it's also clear there won't be a major change in the United States' relationsh­ip with Saudi Arabia.

That constrains Canada's margin of manoeuvre, said Juneau.

“Now that the U.S. has clearly signalled that it will not fundamenta­lly change the relationsh­ip with Saudi Arabia, it becomes much more difficult and costly for American allies in the west to change their relationsh­ip with Saudi Arabia.”

In early February, Ahmed Alharby, a Saudi who had sought asylum in Canada and had been living in Montreal, went dark, blocking fellow activists on social media and vanishing from group messages, the Washington Post reported.

Saudi dissidents in Canada wrote on social media

that Alharby told them he had visited the Saudi embassy in Ottawa, and told reporters at the Toronto Star and Washington Post that he had been interrogat­ed.

By mid-February, a new Twitter account allegedly belonging to Alharby popped up: It featured the face of Mohammed bin Salman as the banner image. Alharby had returned to the Kingdom, said one of the new account's tweets.

That's not the only instance of dissidents being pressured in Canada.

High-profile YouTuber Omar Abdulaziz, who lives in Montreal, has been pressured to return to the Kingdom, and has been warned of such plots by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

And, former spymaster Saad Aljabri is waging a twofront legal battle, fighting off corruption allegation­s in an Ontario lawsuit while suing bin Salman and others for allegedly sending a hit squad to Canada to kill him. The alleged Tiger squad was turned back by Canadian border officials.

There have been, in recent days, a number of other internatio­nal incidents related to Saudi actions abroad.

Australian media reported Monday that Osama al-Hasani, an Australian-Saudi citizen who had flown to Morocco to be with his wife, was detained in Tangier on a Saudi extraditio­n request.

“Four hours after his arrival, the Moroccan police

raided … our house and arrested him in front of me and our four-month-old baby,” Hana al-Hasani told the Australian Broadcasti­ng Corporatio­n.

As well, Reporters without Borders filed legal documents in Germany seeking an investigat­ion into alleged crimes against humanity perpetrate­d by bin Salman, mainly in the repression of journalist­s.

“The official opening of a criminal investigat­ion in Germany into the crimes against humanity in Saudi Arabia would be a world first,” Christian Mihr, the Germany director, said, according to media reports.

 ?? PATRICK HERTZOG / AFP /GETTY IMAGES FILES ?? Ensaf Haidar holds a picture of her husband, Saudi blogger Raif Badawi, jailed since
2012. The Saudis have launched a new investigat­ion against Badawi and Haidar.
PATRICK HERTZOG / AFP /GETTY IMAGES FILES Ensaf Haidar holds a picture of her husband, Saudi blogger Raif Badawi, jailed since 2012. The Saudis have launched a new investigat­ion against Badawi and Haidar.

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