US State Dept asks Saudi Arabia about ex-spy’s detained children

Two children and a brother of former Saudi intelligence officer Saad al-Jabri were detained in the kingdom in March.

MBS Mohammed bin Salman
Saad al-Jabri has accused Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of trying to assassinate him [File: Jacquelyn Martin/Associated Press]

The United States Department of State said in a letter it has repeatedly requested that Saudi Arabia “clarify the status and nature” of the detention of two children of a former top Saudi intelligence officer exiled in Canada who has alleged that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) wants to assassinate him.

The State Department letter came in response to one sent by four US senators last month, calling on President Donald Trump to help free the detained children of Saad al-Jabri, who has worked closely with the US.

“For years, Dr. Aljabri was the US Embassy in Riyadh’s counterpart on shared counterterrorism efforts and responded around the clock to threats against our Mission and personnel,” stated the letter by Acting Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Legislative Affairs Ryan M Kaldahl.

It says the US appreciates Al-Jabri’s “contributions to keeping our citizens safe” and “absent sufficient and compelling justification” will continue to advocate for the wellbeing of Al-Jabri’s children.

saad-al jabri
Saad al-Jabri and his daughter Sarah al-Jabri, who has been detained in Saudi Arabia since March [File: Khalid Al Jabri/via Reuters]

The joint letter – sent last month by Republican Senator Marco Rubio and Democratic Senators Patrick Leahy, Tim Kaine and Chris Van Hollen – said the Saudi royal family was holding the children of Saad al-Jabri, Sarah and Omar, as leverage to force his return to the kingdom.

The two adult children, and a brother of Saad al-Jabri, who is said to hold key state secrets, were detained in Riyadh in March.

Al-Jabri had earlier attempted to get his children to leave Saudi Arabia, but authorities had placed them under a travel ban, according to reports.

The former spy filed a lawsuit [PDF] in US federal court on Thursday that accused MBS of dispatching people to hunt him down in the US and sending a hit squad to kill him in Canada. The latter plot was foiled because the hit team, referred to as “the Tiger Squad” was denied entry to Canada, court documents said.

The suit claims that MBS has been trying to kill al-Jabri for the past three years, that “Defendant bin Salman continues in his attempted extrajudicial killing to this day”, and that MBS has obtained “a ruling by religious authorities endorsing the killing of Dr. Saad [Al-Jabri]”.

It further alleges that al-Jabri’s “close ties to the US Intelligence Community stand in the way of Defendant bin Salman’s consolidation of influence and power among US government officials”, and seeks a jury trial in the US.

Kaldahl’s letter said it was concerned about any “alleged activities” that led al-Jabri to go to exile in Canada and said accusations of wrongdoing by him should be addressed through legal channels.

Saudi Arabia, which has issued Interpol red notices seeking al-Jabri’s return that have since been dismissed as political, has urged other countries to send al-Jabri back to the kingdom, accusing the former senior intelligence officer of corruption.

Al-Jabri had access to the highest levels of information in decades as an intelligence officer working closely with US counterparts.

The four US senators who have sought to help him wrote last month: “As a top intelligence officer in Saudi Arabia, Dr Al-Jabri has been credited by former CIA officials for saving thousands of American lives by discovering and preventing terrorist plots.”

They said the US has a “moral obligation to do what it can to assist in securing his children’s freedom”.

The State Department reply said the US-Saudi partnership “permits us to engage in frank discussions in areas where we disagree” and that in coordination with the White House and other US government agencies it would “continue to engage Saudi counterparts to resolve this situation in a manner that honors Dr. Aljabri’s service to our country”.

Source: Al Jazeera