Saudi activists and dissidents have disputed an official narrative alleging a Saudi citizen who refused government orders to give up his home to make way for a new mega-project was killed after he shot at security forces.
In a report published by Saudi TV on Wednesday, Saudi authorities said Abdul Rahim Ahmad al-Hwaiti from Tabuk province was a “wanted terrorist” who was killed in a shoot-out with security forces.
“He started shooting at the security forces from on top of a building,” said the report. “When he refused to hand himself over and continued shooting and throwing Molotov cocktails at the security forces, the situation had to be dealt with.
“This led to his death and the injury of two security forces,” it said.
Al-Hwaiti, a Saudi citizen from the town of Khraybah in the northwest Red Sea region of the country, published a video of himself on Monday saying he and other citizens were being pressured by the government to give up their property and accept financial compensation.
Al-Hwaiti hails from the powerful al-Huwaitat tribe who are based in three countries: Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and the Sinai in Egypt. The al-Huwaitat have resided in the region for more than 800 years, predating the Saudi state itself by many centuries over.
“Anyone who refuses to leave the area would be arrested by government agents,” a l-Hwaiti said in the video uploaded on YouTube. He called the government’s move “forced displacement”.
Al-Hwaiti said residents of the area did not want to be uprooted but are now living in fear because of what security forces might do to them.
But Saudi activists said the official narrative was flawed and al-Hwaiti was shot dead after recording a video documenting security forces storming his property.
London-based Saudi dissident Saad al-Faqih disputed the Saudi TV report in a video published on Thursday, saying anyone who believed it was “completely ignorant and backward”.
“There’s no way that someone who has been following this story can possibly believe the authorities’ narrative,” he said.
In a video published days before, al-Faqih called on other Saudis to support the al- Huwaitat tribe in resisting government efforts to push them out of their homes.
“What is happening to the Hwaitats is a crime. Everyone who is taking part in this, whether directly or indirectly, is a criminal,” he said in a video on Monday.
Aliaa Abutayah, a London-based Saudi political activist, told Al Jazeera on Wednesday she received several videos – including one showing the shooting of al-Hwaiti by Saudi security forces – from witnesses and posted them on her Twitter account.
Abutayah’s account has since been deactivated. She alleged she received death threats from Saudi agents because of her opposition to the government.
Known as NEOM, the Red Sea development will be close to the size of Belgium, and is to become a hub for “tourism, innovation and technology” as part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS)’s Vision 2030 to transform Saudi Arabia and diversify its oil-based economy.
Ali Younes contributed to this report