Faisal al-Balawi was snatched off the streets of Baghdad by Jordanian intelligence officers and is now being held in a Saudi prison.

In a story not far removed from the plot of a Hollywood spy thriller, his friends say they now fear for al-Balawi's life.

Aljazeera.net has learnt from two independent sources that the government in Riyadh funded his dramatic kidnap and imprisonment.

With little security in the Iraqi capital and with an extremely porous border, seizing and smuggling dissidents back to Saudi Arabia has become increasingly easy.

One Saudi in Baghdad, who asked to remain anonymous, explained how al-Balawi was forcibly and illegally repatriated last month.

Human rights cover

The 29-year-old, along with his fellow Saudi hijacker Aish al-Faradi, both contacted the Saudi Human Rights Centre (SHRC) in London earlier in the year asking for help in claiming political asylum in western Europe. 

Saudis who protest in public are
treated as criminals

The men feared for their safety after the collapse of security in Baghdad.

SHRC Manager Abd al-Aziz al-Khamis said on Monday that he had advised the two to hand themselves to authorities in any European country and promised both men help.

However, after al-Balawi provided his contact details to SHRC in London he was snatched by Jordanian secret service officers and smuggled back to Saudi Arabia.

Another source claims that each Jordanian security officer received $5000 for their illegal services. It is not clear if the Jordanian officers were acting on a freelance basis or working for the Saudis in collaboration with their own government.

Denial

Al-Khamis denies any complicity with the Saudi or Jordanian secret services and emphasises that al-Balawi and al-Faradi are regarded as criminals under international law.

Both Saudi and Jordanian interior and justice ministries refused to discuss the allegations with Aljazeera.net.

But according to other Saudis still in Baghdad, al-Khamis contacted al-Faradi after al-Balawi's capture – stating his friend was safely settled in Sweden and that it was time for him to claim asylum in Europe too.

One close friend of al-Faradi alleges that SHRC has proven itself a political front for the Saudi government and that its manager personally gave details of Saudi dissidents to Jordanian security forces.

Al-Khamis vehemently denies the allegations and stressed that SHCR hasd helped dozens of Saudis who had fled terrible repression to settle in the west, including the United Kingdom, France and the Netherlands.

Police outnumbered protestors
at this demonstration in Jidda
last week

"I myself am on the Saudi wanted list, it would be impossible for me to return to the kingdom. These charges are ridiculous," al-Khamis added.

Hijacking history

Faisal Naji al-Balawi and his friend Aish Ali al-Faridi were so desperate to flee Saudi they used a revolver to hijack a Boeing 777 on its way to London in October 2000.

The pair at first ordered the pilot to go to Damascus, before changing their minds and forcing the plane to land in Baghdad.

Within an hour, all the passengers were released unharmed and the two former Saudi security officers appeared relieved to be granted asylum by Iraqi authorities.

Focusing international attention

Both men said they had wanted to bring international attention to repression in Saudi Arabia.

Both men also specifically criticised the international human rights group Amnesty International for "covering up" thousands of human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia.
 
The Saudi response in 2000 was given by Interior Minister Prince Naif bin Abd al-Aziz, who vowed not to compromise over their extradition.

But the ends to which the Saudi government was prepared to go, its use of kidnappers and smugglers, has put more pressure on other Saudi dissidents to reach the west sooner rather than later.