Touted by some as Saudi Arabia’s progressive reformer, Mohammed bin Salman has an ominous human rights record.
Western governments must demand that their ally Saudi Arabia release the children of a former top Saudi security official who fled to Canada after the crown prince took power three years ago, the family told the Financial Times.
The children of Saad Aljabri – daughter, Sarah, 20, and son, Omar, 21 – were allegedly taken by Saudi security forces in March from their home in Riyadh and have not been heard from since, a son told the newspaper in a report published on Wednesday.
As a top interior minister official in the 2000s, Aljabri was a key figure in the fight against al-Qaeda and had close links with the US Central Intelligence Agency and the UK’s MI6.
The family said Saudi authorities want Aljabri, 61, to return to the kingdom because he is an ally of potential rivals to powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), who has jailed perceived opponents in an “anti-corruption” drive that has seen many prominent Saudis imprisoned in recent years.
“It’s been three months and totally zero response from Saudi Arabia. We don’t know whether they are dead or alive,” another son, Khalid Aljabri, told the Financial Times about his sister and brother.
He called the detentions “politically motivated” and denied his father was involved in any corrupt activities while living in Saudi Arabia.
The newspaper quoted Tim Rieser, senior foreign policy aide to US Senator Patrick Leahy, as saying members of Congress were “concerned that these two young people have disappeared after being seized by Saudi security forces”.
“It appears that they are being used as hostages to try to coerce their father to return to Saudi Arabia, where his fate would be anybody’s guess,” said Rieser.
Prince Mohammed’s crackdown has swept up dozens of potential political rivals, individuals accused of corruption, human rights activists, and figures posing no visible challenge to his hold on power.
In March, Prince Ahmed bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, King Salman’s brother, and the monarch’s nephew Prince Mohammed bin Nayef were detained.
Bin Nayef was Aljabri’s boss at the interior ministry and was described as a “close confidant”. He was replaced as crown prince in June 2017 by MBS.
Analysts said the prominent arrests were a warning to any Saudi royals going against MBS’s de facto rule.
“The reason [for targeting the family] is Mohammed bin Salman’s perception of my father as a threat,” Khalid Aljabri said. “It took us three years to break our silence and the reason we were silent was because of my dad’s service.”
Aljabri earlier attempted to get his children out of Saudi Arabia, but authorities placed them under a travel ban, and they were prevented from flying out of the kingdom.
A $2m US lobbying effort and petitions from European legislators are also putting pressure on Saudi Arabia to release a philanthropist prince jailed for two years without charge amid the royal crackdown.
The detention of Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz bin Salman Al Saud and his father since January 2018 is seen as part of the clampdown.
Crown Prince Mohammed has also been linked to the grisly murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi critic, who was killed and dismembered by a Saudi assassination squad at the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul in 2018.