Saad Aljabri is in the crosshairs for his knowledge of the sensitive inner workings of Saudi Arabia.
Saad Aljabri is now Saudi Arabia’s most wanted man - although that was not always the case. He once served as top advisor to Prince Mohammed bin Nayef.
The targeting of Aljabri comes fresh off the heels of reports that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is preparing charges of corruption and disloyalty against his one-time competitor to the throne, Nayef. Nayef will reportedly be asked to repay around $15 billion.
A quiet man, holding a doctorate in artificial intelligence from Edinburgh University, Aljabri would rise over the years to the position of cabinet minister, and hold a major-general's rank in the interior ministry.
But that was all to change when the kingdom’s former interior minister fell afoul of Crown Prince MBS' rule-establishing purges.
Prince Mohammed Bin Nayef, a former crown prince himself, enjoyed deep ties with Western intelligence agencies, making him a legitimate threat to MBS’s plans, in addition to being next-in-line to the throne.
When the axe fell - starting with bin Nayef’s house arrest in 2017 - his right hand man Saad Aljabri became the next target given his decades of insider knowledge and significant wealth.
In what remained a sore point for the young Crown Prince, Aljabri fled the kingdom’s grasp, evading the purge.
The unassuming 61-year-old Aljabri has a deep knowledge of Saudi Arabia’s sensitive inner workings, including the foreign bank accounts and financial holdings of the senior Saudi royal family.
A Reuters report alleges that the Crown Prince fears Aljabri’s ownership of documents, some of which could prove damaging. The dossiers are alleged to include details of bin Nayef’s assets, which could be liquidated in exchange for his freedom.
Past precedent could support this, following the confinement of senior royals, including billionaire Waleed bin Talal at the Ritz Carlton Hotel which was informally dubbed a ‘Golden Cage’. What ensued was a bail shakedown worth billions in exchange for their freedom.
Aljabri is also presumed to hold sensitive documents about senior royals within the Kingdom. Another view suggests that the young Crown Prince wants to use the same documents to further cement his position against contenders for the throne.
New cards, old plays
While Saad Aljabri managed to elude MBS’s reach for a time, it was not long until the net caught up to him. Saudi Arabia pressed Canada to extradite Aljabri in late 2019 despite the absence of any extradition treaty between the two countries.
Before his move to Canada, Aljabri taught at Harvard University, but decided to move to Toronto after observing the unsettling rapport between US President Donald Trump, his son-in-law Jared Kushner and Crown Prince MBS.
While the move may have bought time, there is no doubt that the Crown Prince’s purge is increasing in its reach and intensity.
The demand for extradition was only one of many moves straight out of a no-qualms playbook used by Saudi Arabia to rein in, and at times, eliminate its dissidents.
In the same year that Aljabri fled, Saudi Arabia submitted a ‘red-notice’ to Interpol for his arrest. More recently, the country arrested two of Aljabri’s children as well as his brother, causing one family member to call them, “victims of a Saudi game of thrones.”
His eldest son Khalid reports that they are now “hostages” after being “kidnapped at dawn on 16 March and taken out of their beds by about 50 state security officers who arrived in 20 cars."
There have been no reasons offered to the family for their arrest. "We don't even know if they are alive or dead," Khalid says in an interview with the New York Times.
Their arrests came at the same time MBS arrested his uncle, Prince Ahmed bin Abdulaziz, as well as his cousin, Prince Mohamed bin Nayef. Prince Mohammed bin Nayef now faces corruption and treason charges.
Most of Aljabri’s family fled to Canada with him, except for two children who had been placed on a travel ban, and have since been taken hostage.
In spite of poor relations between Canada and Saudi Arabia, Canadian authorities have done little to aid Aljabri in his exile. Relations soured between the Kingdom and Canada when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau paused the sale of armoured vehicles and armaments to Saudi Arabia following public outrage at Canadian complicity in the war in Yemen and the brutal killing of Jamal Khashoggi.
The deal is valued at over $10 billion. Relations also took a hit after former Foreign Affairs Minister, Chrystia Freeland, criticised the Saudis' handling of human rights critics almost two years ago.
When Aljabri sought to get his family out of Saudi Arabia, Ottawa did not facilitate quick visas for his two children, or make any representation on their behalf to seek a release.
Ottawa has provided Aljabri sanctuary, but appears to now want to avoid further damaging its relations with Saudi Arabia; this in spite of Aljabri’s role in 2008 which prevented the public beheading of a Saudi-Canadian accused of murder.
Aljabri served for two decades as the key advisor to Bin Nayef, during which time he was credited with reforming and modernising Saudi security services and their counter-terrorism methods.
"He changed it from being a crude, violent, confession-based system into one that used modern forensics and computer-based data mining,” says a former intelligence official.
In spite of his service as Saudi Arabia’s link to the Five Eyes intelligence alliance, it remains to be seen whether his past services will garner him any sympathy or constructive aid in avoiding Saudi Arabia’s extensive purge.