Iyad el-Baghdadi faces threat from Saudi Arabia

Activist says Norwegian authorities put him into protective custody because ‘the Saudis have a crosshairs on me’.

Seven months after the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, another Arab dissident has been threatened by the government in Riyadh, the activist said.

Iyad el-Baghdadi said Norwegian authorities took him to a secure location from his home in Oslo because of a threat against him.

“The way I understood it was, the Saudis have a crosshairs on me, but there is no idea of what they are going to do,” el-Baghdadi told the UK’s Guardian newspaper in an interview published on Tuesday.

The paper reported that the Norwegian officials received information about the threat from the CIA.

El-Baghdadi told Al Jazeera that Norwegian officials asked him not to speak about certain specific details relating to the incident.

“When they took me to a safe location in Oslo, the nature of the threat was not clear. Did the threat get to the stage where it amounted to a plan to endanger me directly?” he said to Al Jazeera on Tuesday.

The vocal pro-democracy activist and strong critic of Saudi Arabia‘s de facto leader, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), said the incident happened on April 25 and that he was in the safe location for 2-3 hours.

“The authorities have told me that so long I’m in Oslo I’m reasonably safe,” he wrote on Twitter on Tuesday.

“I had plans to travel elsewhere but they asked that I cancel these,” he told Al Jazeera.

“A big part of my work these past two years was focused on the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia, especially after the murder of my friend Jamal Khashoggi,” el-Baghdadi said.

Worried for his family

He said there are “six or seven other topics that I am working on and that Norwegian authorities and I have agreed may have been the reason behind my targeting”.

He told Al Jazeera he was worried about his family who are in Malaysia. He said he can not travel to see them or get in touch with them directly. 

El-Baghdadi has been a prominent online presence since the Arab Spring, and his English-language tweets about human rights in the Middle East have found a wide audience.

He seemed to take the threat against him in stride.

“Thanks for your concern, everyone. If they don’t want to kill me, then I’m not doing my job,” he tweeted on Tuesday.

El-Baghdadi was granted asylum in Norway four years ago after his online activism and criticism prompted his expulsion without charge from the United Arab Emirates, where he was a resident.

He’s president and cofounder of the Kawaakibi Foundation, which supports individual rights and democracy through its podcast and The Arab Tyrant Manual platforms. 

In the immediate wake of the killing of Khashoggi, el-Baghdadi was among a number of activists who worked around the clock to try to figure out what happened to the Saudi writer, by trawling through online and other clues.

He warned on Twitter that the danger to dissidents would broaden if Crown Prince Mohammed were not held accountable for Khashoggi’s disappearance.

“If they get away with kidnapping the next step will be assassinations in your capitals, and I’m not joking even a little bit.”

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies