'The Saudis have apparently detained Mr. Aljabri’s children to try to coerce him to return to Saudi Arabia. That is abhorrent and unacceptable'

EDMONTON — At least two United States senators’ offices have been briefed in the case of a former Saudi intelligence official who has been living in Canada and is facing escalating pressure from the Saudi government to return home, including the recent disappearance of two of his children who were living in the Saudi capital of Riyadh.

Saad Aljabri, a former intelligence official well-known in Western diplomatic and intelligence circles, came to Canada in 2017 after falling out of favour back home during the tumult and purges to overhaul the line of succession to the Saudi throne.

Most of Aljabri’s family also fled, but two children, Omar and Sarah, both now in their early 20s, were barred from leaving the country in 2017. News that Aljabri had settled in Canada — and of the Saudi attempts to coerce him home — started trickling out in recent weeks.

The Canadian government confirmed to National Post earlier this month that it is aware of the abduction of the two Saudi children, and pointed out there is no extradition treaty between Canada and Saudi Arabia that could be used to force Aljabri home.

In early June, Canada’s foreign affairs department said, when contacted by the National Post, it “is concerned by the detention of Saad al-Jabri’s two Children (sic) in Saudi Arabia.”

The family has also sought assistance from legislators in the United States. Among the U.S. senators who’ve taken an interest are Vermont Democrat Patrick Leahy and Florida Republican Marco Rubio.

“Hostage taking is wrong under any circumstances,” said Leahy, who has expressed concern about the case. “The Saudis have apparently detained Mr. Aljabri’s children to try to coerce him to return to Saudi Arabia. That is abhorrent and unacceptable, and the Trump Administration and the Canadian government should determine their whereabouts and demand their release.”

Prior to coming to Canada, Aljabri was the right-hand man of Mohammed bin Nayef, the nephew of King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, who was originally thought to be heir to the throne. In a palace coup, bin Nayef was deposed in favour of Mohammed bin Salman, making Aljabri a target for the new regime, a source close to the Aljabri family told the National Post earlier this month.

In March 2020, bin Nayef was rounded up in Saudi Arabia on suspicion of plotting a coup against bin Salman. Days later, Aljabri’s kids, Omar and Sarah, were  also detained.

According to a Reuters report on the international drama, the pressure campaign was upped in May, when Aljabri’s brother was also detained. The Reuters report says Mohammed bin Salman — the Crown Prince is often referred to as MBS — is after documents detailing financial dealings of senior royals, including King Salman, and information on assets of those opposed to MBS, including bin Nayef.

U.S. Senators Vermont Democrat Patrick Leahy and Florida Republican Marco Rubio have taken an interest in Saad Aljabri’s situation with Saudi Arabia. Carolyn Kaster - Pool/Getty Images; Kevin Dietsch - Pool/Getty Images

On Tuesday, Canada’s foreign affairs department declined to comment further, referring the Post back to its statement from early June. The Saudi embassies in Ottawa and in Washington, did not immediately respond to the Post‘s enquiries on Tuesday.

Aljabri has had a long relationship with Western governments and intelligence agencies, and has been credited with passing along information that foiled a 2010 plot to bomb two cargo planes with printer cartridge bombs.

The news comes as another Saudi in Canada, Omar Abdulaziz, told the Guardian, a British newspaper, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police warned him of threats from the kingdom. Abdulaziz, who has been in Canada since 2009, has previously detailed attempts to get him to return to Saudi Arabia.

The practice of exerting pressure on dissidents abroad is a favoured tactic of the Saudi government, experts say.

Most infamously, the current Crown Prince is thought to have ordered the death of dissident journalist and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, who was murdered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October, 2018. (Saudi Arabia denies this, blaming rogue agents for the killing;  five have been sentenced to death.)

On Sunday, Khalid Aljabri, a cardiologist living in Canada, tweeted it was the three-year anniversary of Aljabri children’s inability to leave the kingdom. “Quiet diplomacy failed to free them,” he wrote. “3 months ago, the travel ban escalated into an enforced disappearance. Wherever you are, we love you .. we miss you.”

3 years ago today, Sarah and Omar (both minors) were on their way from Saudi to Boston. They were denied at the airport.

Quiet diplomacy failed to free them.

3 months ago, the travel ban escalated into an enforced disappearance.

Wherever you are, we love you .. we miss you.

— Dr. Khalid Aljabri | خالد الجبري (@JabriMD) June 21, 2020

• Email: tdawson@postmedia.com | Twitter: tylerrdawson

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