Saudi government secretly abducting its critics from abroad, say dissidents

Salman of Saudi ArabiaAt least three prominent Saudi dissidents living in Europe, who openly criticized Saudi Arabia’s system of government, have been illegally abducted by the country’s monarchy in the past two years, according to a report by the BBC. All three, who are members of the Saudi royal family, are missing, believed to be dead or held against their will in Saudi Arabia. But the country’s government will not comment on their fate.

According to the BBC World Service, one of the missing dissidents is Prince Turki bin Bandar, a former major in the Saudi police force. In 2010, the prince began falling out with the Saudi royal family over a disputed inheritance. He was reportedly arrested and imprisoned. Once released from prison, in 2012, he moved to France, from where he began criticizing the Saudi government by posting videos and messages on social media. But his messages calling for political reform and an end to corruption in Saudi Arabia stopped in the summer of 2015 when, according to his friends, he disappeared. One of them, the blogger Wael al-Khalaf, told the BBC that Prince Bandar was visiting Morocco where he was detained following a request by the Saudi government. It is believed that he was then deported to Saudi Arabia, where he remains today, almost certainly against his will.

Another Europe-based Saudi royal, Prince Saud bin Saif al-Nasr, has been missing since 2015. His disappearance came after a year-long social-media campaign in which he called for the prosecution of senior Saudi officials for backing the overthrow of the now deposed Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi. In September 2015, shortly before his disappearance, Prince Nasr had publicly endorsed two anonymous open letters —allegedly written by a Saudi prince— calling for the violent overthrow of the Saudi monarchy. According to the BBC, Prince Nasr was the only Saudi royal to publicly and openly endorse the letters. He then disappeared and is presumed to be in Saudi Arabia.

The third case, that of Prince Khaled bin Farhan, is more complicated. The prince was living in Switzerland and was a prominent figure among Saudi exiles calling for political reforms in their homeland. In 2003, he took a flight from Milan to Rome on a private jet, which, according to the BBC, had been provided to him by a Russian-Italian company seeking to strike a business deal with him. But Prince Farhan alleges that the trip was a ruse, and that the jet took him instead to Saudi Arabia, where he was imprisoned. Seven years later, the Saudi government allowed him to seek medical treatment in the United States. But when he arrived in Boston, Massachusetts, the prince immediately filed a criminal complaint against his abductors in the Swiss courts. Amazingly, in 2016 he was convinced by the Saudi government in Paris, where he was living at the time, to use a Saudi government plane to visit his ailing father in Cairo, Egypt. But, predictably, the airplane took him and his 18-member entourage —which included non-Saudi citizens— to Riyadh. When the jet landed, Prince Farhan was “dragged […] from the plane” by heavily armed guards while “screaming at his team to call the US embassy”, according to two members of his entourage who spoke anonymously to the BBC.

The two anonymous sources told the British broadcaster that they had their passports taken away and were kept in a hotel for three days without being allowed to use a telephone to contact their family abroad or their country’s embassy in Saudi Arabia. They were then allowed to “fly to a destination of their choice” with their expenses paid by the Saudi government. The BBC said it contacted the Saudi government seeking information about the three missing royals, but Saudi officials declined to respond to questions.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 17 August 2017 | Permalink

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Soviet memoirs suggest KGB abducted and murdered Swedish diplomat

Raoul WallenbergThe recently discovered memoirs of a former director of the Soviet KGB suggest that a senior Swedish diplomat, who disappeared mysteriously in the closing stages of World War II, was killed on the orders of Joseph Stalin. The fate of Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg is one of the 20th century’s unsolved espionage mysteries. In 1944 and 1945, the 33-year-old Wallenberg was Sweden’s ambassador to Budapest, the capital of German-allied Hungary. During his time there, Wallenberg is said to have saved over 20,000 Hungarian Jews from the Nazi concentration camps, by supplying them with Swedish travel documents, or smuggling them out of the country through a network of safe houses. He also reportedly dissuaded German military commanders from launching an all-out armed attack on Budapest’s Jewish ghetto.

But Wallenberg was also an American intelligence asset, having been recruited by a US spy operating out of the War Refugee Board, an American government outfit with offices throughout Eastern Europe. In January of 1945, as the Soviet Red Army descended on Hungary, Moscow gave orders for Wallenberg’s arrest on charges of spying for Washington. The Swedish diplomat disappeared, never to be seen in public again. Some historians speculate that Joseph Stalin initially intended to exchange Wallenberg for a number of Soviet diplomats and intelligence officers who had defected to Sweden. According to official Soviet government reports, Wallenberg died of a heart attack on July 17, 1947, while being interrogated at the Lubyanka, a KGB-affiliated prison complex in downtown Moscow. Despite the claims of the official Soviet record, historians have cited periodic reports that Wallenberg may have managed to survive in the Soviet concentration camp system until as late as the 1980s.

But the recently discovered memoirs of Ivan Serov, who directed the KGB from 1954 to 1958, appear to support the prevalent theory about Wallenberg’s demise in 1947. Serov led the feared Soviet intelligence agency under the reformer Nikita Khrushchev, who succeeded Joseph Stalin in the premiership of the USSR. Khrushchev appointed Serov to conduct an official probe into Wallenberg’s fate. Serov’s memoirs were found in 2012 by one of his granddaughters, Vera Serova, inside several suitcases that had been secretly encased inside a wall in the family’s summer home. According to British newspaper The Times, the documents indicate that Wallenberg was indeed held for two years in the Lubyanka, where he was regularly interrogated by the KGB. The latter were certain that the Swedish diplomat was an American spy who had also been close to Nazi Germany’s diplomatic delegation in Hungary. Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin considered exchanging him for Soviet assets in the West. But eventually Wallenberg “lost his value [and] Stalin didn’t see any point in sending him home”, according to Serov’s memoirs. The KGB strongman adds that “undoubtedly, Wallenberg was liquidated in 1947”. Further on, he notes that, according to Viktor Abakumov, who headed the MGB —a KGB predecessor agency— in the mid-1940s, the order to kill Wallenberg came from Stalin himself.

In 2011, Lt. Gen. Vasily Khristoforov, Chief Archivist for the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), one of two successor agencies to the old Soviet KGB, gave an interview about Wallenberg, in which he said that most of the Soviet documentation on the Swedish diplomat had been systematically destroyed in the 1950s. But he said that historical reports of Wallenberg’s survival into the 1980s were “a product of […] people’s imagination”, and insisted that he was “one hundred percent certain […] that Wallenberg never was in any prison” other than the Lubyanka. An investigation by the Swedish government into the diplomat’s disappearance and eventual fate is ongoing.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 13 September 2016 | Permalink

Portuguese appeals court orders extradition of ex-CIA officer to Italy

Sabrina De SousaAn appeals court in Portugal has ruled that a former officer of the Central Intelligence Agency is to be extradited to Italy, where she faces charges of helping kidnap a man as part of a secret operation sponsored by the United States government. Sabrina De Sousa, 59, was an accredited diplomat stationed at the US consulate in Milan, Italy, in 2003, when a CIA team kidnapped Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr from a Milan street in broad daylight. Nasr, who goes by the nickname Abu Omar, is a former member of Egyptian militant group al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, and was believed by the CIA to have links to al-Qaeda. Soon after his abduction, Nasr was renditioned to Egypt, where he says he was brutally tortured, raped, and held illegally for years before being released without charge.

Upon Nasr’s release from prison, Italian authorities prosecuted the CIA team that abducted him. They were able to trace the American operatives through the substantial trail of evidence that they left behind, including telephone records and bill invoices in luxury hotels in Milan and elsewhere. In 2009, De Sousa was among 22 CIA officers convicted in absentia in an Italian court for their alleged involvement in Nasr’s abduction. Since the convictions were announced, the US government has not signaled a desire to extradite those convicted to Italy to serve prison sentences. However, those convicted are now classified as international fugitives and risk arrest by Interpol and other law enforcement agencies, upon exiting US territory.

De Sousa was arrested at the Portela Airport in Lisbon, Portugal, in October of last year. She spent two nights in jail before being released. However, her passport was seized by Portuguese authorities until they decided whether to extradite her to Italy to face her conviction. After a decision was made to extradite De Sousa, her lawyers filed an appeal. Last week, however, her appeal was denied, which means that she is to be extradited after May 4. It appears that De Sousa will now have to travel to Italy in order to be given official notice of her conviction, as well as the sentence, according to European legal conventions. Following that, she will probably have to return to Portugal to serve her sentence. Her lawyer said, however, that De Sousa plans to challenge her conviction at the Supreme Court of Cassation, Italy’s highest court of appeal.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 26 April 2016 | Permalink


Malaysia foiled Islamic State plan to kidnap prime minister, senior officials

Ahmad Zahid HamidAuthorities in Malaysia said they managed to foil a plan by the Islamic State to kidnap the country’s prime minister and two other senior cabinet officials, in exchange for ransom. According to the government of Malaysia, the Islamic State also planned to stage armed attacks throughout the country, including in major urban centers, such as Kuala Lumpur, the nation’s capital. News of the alleged plot was revealed in the Dewan Rakyat, the lower house of the Malaysian parliament, by Ahmad Zahid Hamid, the country’s deputy prime minister. He told members of parliament that Malaysian intelligence had managed to detect the plot, which had been planned for January 30, 2015, but that the government did not believe it was prudent to alarm the country until the investigation of the alleged plot had been finalized.

According to Hamid, 13 individuals with direct ties to the Islamic State were behind the plot to kidnap three senior members of the Malaysian government on the same day. The targets were the Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, the Defense Minister Hishammuddin Tun Hussein, and Hamid himself, who informed the parliament on Tuesday. He said that the Islamic State members were planning to ask for a large amount of money in return for delivering the three politicians to the authorities unharmed. Along with the kidnappings, the Islamic State members had planned to raid military facilities and steal weapons, then plant explosions throughout the country. They also wanted to conduct a series of armed robberies in order to acquire funds for the militant organization.

Hamid told the parliament that intelligence agencies had not been able to establish proof of the existence of an independent network belonging to the Islamic State in Malaysia. Instead, Islamic State members and sympathizers in the country are being handled from abroad, primarily from Syria, he said. Speaking on Tuesday about the alleged plot, Defense Minister Hussein said that security had been increased at all military bases and that the personal protection detail of senior cabinet officials had been augmented as a result of the plot.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 16 March 2016 | Permalink

European court of human rights censures Italy over CIA abduction case

Abu Omar NasrEurope’s highest human rights court has ruled against Italy in the case of an Egyptian man who was abducted from Milan in 2003 by the United States Central Intelligence Agency. Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, known as Abu Omar, is a former member of al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, an Islamist group founded in the 1970s, which aimed to overthrow the Egyptian government and replace it with an Islamic regime. Members of the group have been implicated in the assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in 1981, as well as in numerous attacks on tourist facilities in Egypt in the 1990s. Once al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya was declared illegal in Egypt, Italian authorities offered Nasr political asylum, after he successfully argued that he would be subject to torture if arrested in Egypt.

But in 2003, the CIA, which believed that Nasr was involved with al-Qaeda-linked groups in Europe, abducted him from Milan in broad daylight. After his abduction, Nasr was delivered by the CIA to Egyptian authorities under Washington’s “extraordinary rendition” program. He was then imprisoned in Egypt for four years without trial. Following his release in 2008, Nasr said he was brutally tortured and raped by his Egyptian captors and was never given access to a lawyer. Regular readers of intelNews will recall that the Nasr abduction prompted international headlines after an Italian court convicted 23 Americans and two Italians for Nasr’s kidnapping. The American defendants, most of whom are believed to be CIA officers, were tried in absentia. Washington has since refused to extradite them to Italy.

On Tuesday, Italy was found guilty of human rights violations in the Nasr case by the European Court of Human Rights, the highest court of justice sanctioned by the Council of Europe. The court said that the Italian state imposed “the principle of state secrecy […] in order to ensure that those responsible [for Nasr’s abduction] did not have to answer for their actions”. Consequently, those responsible for the abduction were “ultimately […] granted immunity”, said the court, implying that the Italian executive sabotaged the Italian trial in order to allow for the alleged CIA officers to escape justice. The court also ordered Italy to pay Nasr €115,000 ($127,000) in restitution.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 24 February 2016 | Permalink

Portugal court rules to extradite ex-CIA officer wanted in Italy for kidnapping

Sabrina De SousaA court in Portugal has ruled to extradite a former officer of the United States Central Intelligence Agency to Italy, where she faces charges of kidnapping a man as part of a secret operation. Sabrina De Sousa, 59, was an accredited diplomat stationed at the US consulate in Milan, Italy, in 2003, when a CIA team kidnapped Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr from a Milan street in broad daylight. Nasr, who goes by the nickname Abu Omar, is a former member of Egyptian militant group al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, and was believed by the CIA to have links to al-Qaeda. Soon after his abduction, Nasr was renditioned to Egypt, where he says he was brutally tortured, raped, and held illegally for years before being released without charge.

Upon Nasr’s release from prison, Italian authorities prosecuted the CIA team that abducted him. They were able to trace the American operatives through the substantial trail of evidence that they left behind, including telephone records and bill invoices in luxury hotels in Milan and elsewhere. In 2009, De Sousa was among 22 CIA officers convicted in absentia in an Italian court for their alleged involvement in Nasr’s abduction. Since the convictions were announced, the US government has not signaled a desire to extradite those convicted to Italy to serve prison sentences. However, those convicted are now classified as international fugitives and risk arrest by Interpol and other law enforcement agencies, upon exiting US territory.

De Sousa was arrested at the Portela Airport in Lisbon, Portugal, in October of last year. She spent two nights in jail before being released. However, her passport was seized by Portuguese authorities until they decided whether to extradite her to Italy to face her conviction. The Reuters news agency said on Friday that De Sousa would “be surrendered to Italian authorities” so that she could be informed of the Italian court’s decision to convict her in 2009. The news agency was reportedly told by a Portuguese court official that De Sousa would have to travel to Italy in order to be given official notice of her conviction, as well as the sentence, according to European legal conventions. Following that, she would have to return to Portugal to serve her sentence. Her lawyer said, however, that De Sousa planned to challenge her conviction at the Supreme Court of Cassation, Italy’s highest court of appeal.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 18 January 2016 | Permalink

Portugal detains ex-CIA operative wanted for 2003 kidnapping

Sabrina De SousaA former officer in the United States Central Intelligence Agency, who is wanted by Italian authorities for her alleged role in the abduction and rendition of a suspected Islamist militant in Italy, has been arrested by police in Portugal. Sabrina De Sousa, 59, was an accredited diplomat stationed at the US consulate in Milan, Italy, when a CIA team kidnapped Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr from a Milan street in broad daylight. Nasr, who goes by the nickname Abu Omar, is a former member of Egyptian militant group al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, and was believed by the CIA to have links to al-Qaeda. Soon after his abduction, Nasr was renditioned to Egypt, where he says he was brutally tortured and raped, and held illegally for years before being released without charge.

Upon Nasr’s release from prison, Italian authorities prosecuted the CIA team that abducted him. They were able to trace the American operatives through the substantial trail of evidence that they left behind, including telephone records and bill invoices in luxury hotels in Milan and elsewhere. In 2009, De Sousa was among 22 CIA officers convicted in absentia in an Italian court for their alleged involvement in Nasr’s abduction. Since the convictions were announced, the US government has not signaled a desire to extradite those convicted to Italy to serve prison sentences. However, those convicted are now classified as international fugitives and risk arrest by Interpol and other law enforcement agencies, upon exiting US territory.

According to The Associated Press, Vice News and Newsweek, De Sousa was arrested at the Portela Airport in Lisbon, Portugal, on Monday. She is believed to have spent two nights in jail before being released on Wednesday. However, De Sousa’s passport was seized by Portuguese authorities, who are now trying to decide whether to extradite her to Italy to face charges for helping kidnap Nasr in 2003, and for failing to appear in court in 2009. Shortly after her conviction, De Sousa told American media that the CIA operation against Nasr in Italy “broke the law”, but had been authorized by the leadership of the CIA. The latter, she said, “abandoned and betrayed” those who carried out Nasr’s abduction, leaving them “to fend for themselves”.

In 2013, another convicted CIA operative, Robert Seldon Lady, who is believed to have been the CIA’s station chief in Milan at the time of Nasr’s kidnapping, was detained while attempting to enter Panama from Costa Rica at a remote jungle border-crossing. Costa Rican authorities said later that “a check on his passport [had] triggered an INTERPOL alert”. However, he was released a day later. According to the Panamanian foreign ministry, Lady was released because “Panama did not have an extradition treaty with Italy and because documentation sent by Italian officials was insufficient”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 05 October 2015 | Permalink