Saud al-Qahtani

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Saud al-Qahtani
Native name
سعود القحطاني
Born (1978-07-07) July 7, 1978 (age 41)
Known forSaudi royal court advisor
Alleged involvement in the killing of Jamal Khashoggi.

Saud bin Abdullah al-Qahtani (born July 7, 1978) is a Saudi Arabian consultant and former royal court advisor. Prior to his dismissal in late 2018, he worked as a legal advisor to King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and a media consultant to crown prince Mohammed bin Salman.[1] His official post was General Supervisor of the Center for Studies and Media Affairs.[2][3]

Described as a "nationalist ideologue", al-Qahtani served as a major influence over Mohammed bin Salman's foreign and domestic policies.[4][5]

He reportedly oversaw the killing of Jamal Khashoggi,[6] among other interrogations and torture. It was after this event that he was dismissed. In December Turkish officials issued a warrant for his arrest for the murder of Khashoggi. As of March 2019 he is reportedly under house arrest.[7]

In April 2019, as a response to Khashoggi's murder, the United States Government banned al-Qahtani and 15 others from entering the United States.[8]

Early life[edit]

Al-Qahtani was born in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on July 7, 1978.[9][10] He received a bachelor's degree in law from King Saud University, and graduated with the rank of sergeant from the Royal Saudi Air Force.[9] Al-Qahtani subsequently obtained a master's degree in criminal justice from the Naif Arab University for Security Sciences (NAUSS).[11][9]

Career[edit]

Al-Qahtani previously worked as a journalist for Elaph and as a contributor for Al Riyadh.[11]

After obtaining a law degree, al-Qahtani worked as an adviser to the deputy chief of the royal court.[1] In 2003, he served as a legal advisor to the secretariat to then crown prince Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz.[9] In the early 2000s he was hired by Khaled al-Tuwaijri to protect Saudi Arabia's reputation via an "electronic army".[6] In 2008, he became responsible for media monitoring for the royal court.[9] Al-Qahtani worked extensively with Hacking Team for espionage purposes.[12][13][14][15] He was also reportedly active on the Hack Forums, using the username Nokia2mon2.[14][16][17]

He was officially appointed an advisor to the royal court in 2012 and was given the rank of minister in 2015.[9][11][18]

He was also President and Chairman of the Saudi Federation of Cyber Security, Programming, and Drones (SAFCSP).[3][19][20] Al-Qahtani also served on the board of directors of King Abdul Aziz University, the MiSK Foundation, the Royal Commission for Al-Ula, and the Saudi Union for Cyber Security and Programming.[9]

2016 US lobbying, foreign affairs[edit]

In 2016, Al-Qahtani signed on two US lobbying firms: BGR Group "will provide public relations and media management services for The Center [for Studies and Media Affairs at The Saudi Royal Court], which includes both traditional and social media forums," for which they were to be paid US$500,000.00,[21] while Squire Patton Boggs were to be paid $100,000 per month, plus expenses, for "legal and strategic policy advice and advocacy on foreign policy and related issues in the U.S. Government".[22]

During the 2017–18 Qatar diplomatic crisis, al-Qahtani urged Saudi citizens to identify suspected supporters of Qatar through a "Black List" hashtag on Twitter.[12]

He reportedly oversaw the interrogation of Saad al-Hariri during the 2017 Lebanon–Saudi Arabia dispute.[6]

Internal Saudi affairs[edit]

In 2017, al-Qahtani was an instrumental figure in the 2017 Saudi Arabian purge, luring targets to The Ritz-Carlton, Riyadh by arranging fake meetings there.[23] Al-Qahtani reportedly pressured detainees to sign over assets under threat of torture and imprisonment.[7]

In 2018, al-Qahtani reportedly oversaw the torture of several female activists in Saudi Arabia including Loujain al-Hathloul.[24] The activists, who had been campaigning against the male guardianship system and for the right to drive, were reportedly subjected to sexual assault, electrical torture, flogging, and threats of rape and murder.[24][7] Al-Qahtani was personally present during at least one of the interrogation session and is reported to have personally threatened to rape, murder, and dump the body of one of the activists into the sewers.[25]

Assassination of Jamal Khashoggi[edit]

The United States intelligence community has identified al-Qahtani as the ringleader of the assassination of Saudi dissident and Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi.[26] Al-Qahtani acted as the head of what American intelligence officials called the Saudi Rapid Intervention Group, which has reportedly undertaken at least a dozen operations since 2017.[7]

Al-Qahtani had been in contact with Khashoggi since at least October 2017, alerting Khashoggi that his public writings were being monitored.[27] Al-Qahtani was reportedly involved with luring Khashoggi back to Saudi Arabia, suggesting to Khashoggi that he might be able to work with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.[28]

After the assassination Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2, 2018, al-Qahtani was dismissed as the royal court's supervisor of media affairs.[29][30][31] According to Arab and Turkish sources, al-Qahtani organized the Khashoggi operation, even calling into the consulate via Skype to talk with and insult Khashoggi before telling the assembled team: "Bring me the head of the dog."[6] The Saudi state prosecutor announced on 15 November 2018 that 11 agents were indicted and 5 charged with murdering Khashoggi. He added that Al-Qahtani met the leader of the team that killed Khashoggi before it was dispatched to Turkey. Al-Qahtani was not arrested.[23]

Prince Mohammed bin Salman exchanged at least 11 messages with al-Qahtani in the hours before and after the assassination of Khashoggi, leading the Central Intelligence Agency to conclude that Mohammed ordered Khashoggi's murder.[28] A member of the Saudi hit team, Maher Mutreb, also called al-Qahtani to inform him that the operation has been completed.[32] However, the message-exchange element of the report was contested by Saudi Arabia based on a confidential Saudi-commissioned investigation.[33]

In November 2018, Saudi authorities confirmed that he was being investigated and was barred to leave the country. On December 5, 2018, the Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor's Office requested, and was issued, an arrest warrant for Saud al-Qahtani for the murder of Khashoggi.[34][35] Saudi Minister of Foreign Affairs Adel al-Jubeir rejected Turkey's request for al-Qahtani's extradition on December 9, stating that Saudi Arabia does not extradite its citizens.[36]

In January 2019, the Saudi authorities were, according to The Washington Post, refusing to confirm the whereabouts of al-Qahtani. There were concerns that he could be influencing the investigation itself.[37] Khalil Jahshan, executive director of the Arab Centre of Washington DC, stated in an interview with Al Jazeera, that al-Qahtani's "disappearance" was a "natural progression of [Saudi Arabia's] investigation" and is likely used as a strategy to keep crown prince Mohammed bin Salman protected from accusations regarding Khashoggi's murder: "They have sheltered some of the key players accused of being involved [in the murder] whether by Turkey or by the international community. The intention of the Saudi campaign right now is to keep the crown prince clear of any accusations with regards to the murder of Khashoggi."[38]

Hacking of foreign journalists[edit]

On March 5, 2019, The Guardian reported that a strain had developed between King Salman and his son, Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman.[39] March 7, 2019, al-Qahtani reportedly signed an order instructing "a technical team to carry out the "penetration" of the Guardian's computer servers "in complete secrecy"".[40]

2019 alleged death[edit]

In August, 2019, Saudi critic Iyad el-Baghdadi tweeted that al-Qahtani had been poisoned. Madawi al-Rasheed noted that "While dictators are notorious for killing their critics and dissidents, they are equally fond of killing those closest to them, especially when they might have helped rid them of a persistent critic. It is only natural for unaccountable regimes to murder their aides, who might reveal their intrigues and thuggery. They become scapegoats to save bigger heads from greater scrutiny and responsibility."[41] By the 12th September, 2019, Bloomberg News noted the poisoning rumors, but stated that two people close to al-Qahtani stated that he was still alive.[42]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b "Who is Saud al-Qahtani, the fired Saudi royal court adviser?". Al Jazeera English. October 20, 2018.
  2. ^ "Saud Qahtani: Saudi authorities are taking legal steps against beIN Sports". Saudi Gazette. June 23, 2018. Saud Al-Qahtani, the general supervisor of the Center for Studies and Media Affairs at the Saudi Royal Court, confirmed that relevant Saudi authorities are taking the necessary legal steps against the beIN Sports channels for “bringing politics into sports”.
  3. ^ a b SANS Institute. "The Prince Mohammad Bin Salman College for Cyber Security, Artificial Intelligence & Advanced Technologies has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the SANS Institute to benefit of the professional and specialised training in the different fields of cyber security". LinkedIn. The memorandum was signed by the Dean of the College Dr. Abdullah Al-Dahlawi – on behalf of HE the General Supervisor of the Center for Studies and Media Affairs at the Saudi Royal Court & Chairman of the Saudi Federation for Cyber Security, Programming & Drones (SAFCSP) Dr. Saud Alqahtani
  4. ^ "Spotlight: Inside the stricken court of crown prince Mohammed Bin Salman". GQ. 27 December 2018.
  5. ^ "Saudi 'Mr. Hashtag' becomes fall guy in Khashoggi case, but is he really down?". France 24. 25 October 2018.
  6. ^ a b c d Galloni, Alessandra; Robinson, Simon, eds. (October 22, 2018). "How the man behind Khashoggi murder ran the killing via Skype". Reuters.
  7. ^ a b c d Mazzetti, Mark; Hubbard, Ben (March 17, 2019). "Saudi Crown Prince's Brutal Drive to Crush Dissenters Began Before Khashoggi". The New York Times.
  8. ^ "Pompeo Bars 16 Saudis From U.S. in Response to Khashoggi Killing". The New York Times. Retrieved 8 April 2019.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g "FaceOf: Saud Al-Qahtani, Saudi Royal Court adviser". Arab News. Archived from the original on October 30, 2018.
  10. ^ "Global Magnitsky Designations". Office of Foreign Assets Control. November 15, 2018. Archived from the original on December 7, 2018. Retrieved December 10, 2018. AL-QAHTANI, Saud (a.k.a. ALQAHTANI, Saud Abdullah S), Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; DOB 07 Jul 1978; POB Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; nationality Saudi Arabia; Gender Male; Passport D079021 (individual)
  11. ^ a b c Said al-Arabi (August 23, 2017). "Who is Saoud al-Qahtani, Saudi Arabia's Steve Bannon?". Al-Araby Al-Jadeed.
  12. ^ a b Ignatius, David (December 7, 2018). "How a chilling Saudi cyberwar ensnared Jamal Khashoggi". The Washington Post.
  13. ^ Madore, P. H. (September 28, 2018). "Saudi Arabia Wanted to Own Hacking Team". Hacked.com. As late as 2015, it appears Hacking Team had ongoing interactions with the Saudi Royal Family, with H.E. Saud Al-Qahtani, an officer of the Royal Court, contacting them in late June in his capacity for “media monitoring” and more.
  14. ^ a b Franceschi-Bicchierai, Lorenzo (October 29, 2018). "How 'Mr. Hashtag' Helped Saudi Arabia Spy on Dissidents". Vice Media.
  15. ^ "The Hackingteam Archives". WikiLeaks. Archived from the original on October 30, 2018. Retrieved October 30, 2018.
  16. ^ "nokia2mon2". Hack Forums. January 25, 2018. Archived from the original on October 30, 2018.
  17. ^ 420cartel/@DaleInCyber (October 23, 2018). "Ex HF member nokia2mon2 directed murder of Jamal Khashoggi". Hack Forums. Archived from the original on October 30, 2018. Ex-member of this site nokia2mon2 (Saud al-Qahtani) directed the murder of Saudi opposer Jamal Khashoggi over Skype. - https://www.alaraby.co.uk/english/comment/2018/10/23/fear-of-mbs-online-enforcer-lingers-after-his-sacking - https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/saudi-crown-princes-aide-directed-khashoggi-killing-over-skype-report [...] Proof Nokia2mon2 is Saud al-Qahtani - https://archive.fo/o/XQaJT/https://twitter.com/3issaqtr/status/902728117357125633?lang=en
  18. ^ "Royal Order: Appointing Saud Al-Qahtani as Advisor, at the Royal Court". Saudi Press Agency. December 12, 2015. Archived from the original on November 23, 2018. Appointing Saud bin Abdullah Al-Qahtani, as an advisor, at the Royal Court, at the Ministerial Rank.
  19. ^ "Jeddah to host Drone Racing World Championship finals". Bahrain News Agency. September 12, 2018. The event will be hosted by Saudi Federation of Cyber Security, Programming, and Drones (SAFCSP), under the patronage of the Saudi Royal Court advisor and the President of SAFCSP, Saud Alqahtani, Centre for International Communication (CIC) reported.
  20. ^ "Saudi Federation for Cybersecurity, Programming and Drones signs a memorandum of understanding with the Advanced Electronics Company". Saudi Press Agency. April 26, 2018. Archived from the original on October 30, 2018. The Royal Adviser and Chairman of SAFCS Saud Al-Qahtani pointed out that this memorandum would[...]
  21. ^ BGR Government Affairs (March 15, 2016). "5430-Exhibit-AB-20160315-53.pdf" (PDF). United States Department of Justice.
  22. ^ Squire Patton Boggs (US) LLP (September 20, 2016). "2165-Exhibit-AB-20160920-67.pdf" (PDF). United States Department of Justice.
  23. ^ a b Kerr, Simeon; Raval, Anjli; England, Andrew (November 18, 2018). "Saudi 'prince of darkness' lingers in the shadows". The Financial Times.
  24. ^ a b Reuters (December 7, 2018). "Aide to Mohammed bin Salman 'supervised torture of female prisoner'". The Daily Telegraph. Archived from the original on December 10, 2018.
  25. ^ Qiblawi, Tamara. "Story of disappeared Saudi power couple spotlights dissident crackdown". CNN.com. CNN. Retrieved 9 January 2019.
  26. ^ Mazzetti, Mark; Hubbard, Ben; Barnes, Julian E.; Gibbons-Neff, Thomas; Kirkpatrick, David D. (February 7, 2019). "Year Before Killing, Saudi Prince Told Aide He Would Use 'a Bullet' on Jamal Khashoggi". The New York Times.
  27. ^ Mekhennet, Souad; Miller, Greg (December 22, 2018). "Jamal Khashoggi's final months as an exile in the long shadow of Saudi Arabia". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on December 27, 2018.
  28. ^ a b Harris, Shane; Mekhennet, Souad (December 2, 2018). "Saudi crown prince exchanged messages with aide alleged to have overseen Khashoggi killing". The Washington Post.
  29. ^ Benner, Katie; Mazzetti, Mark; Hubbard, Ben; Isaac, Mike. "Saudis' Image Makers: A Troll Army and a Twitter Insider". The New York Times.
  30. ^ Jacinto, Leela (October 25, 2018). "Saudi 'Mr. Hashtag' becomes fall guy in Khashoggi case, but is he really down?". France 24.
  31. ^ dos Santos, Nina; Kaplan, Michael (December 3, 2018). "Jamal Khashoggi's private WhatsApp messages may offer new clues to killing". CNN. Chillingly, the men mention also Saud al Qathani, bin Salman's powerful social media enforcer -- fired and under investigation in Saudi Arabia amid claims by Turkey that he was the mastermind of Khashoggi's murder.
  32. ^ Harris, Shane; Miller, Greg; Dawsey, Josh (November 16, 2018). "CIA concludes Saudi crown prince ordered Jamal Khashoggi's assassination". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on December 3, 2018. Mutreb called Saud al-Qahtani, then one of the top aides to Mohammed, and informed him that the operation had been completed, according to people familiar with the call.
  33. ^ "Saudis: Saudi-Commissioned Report Contests U.S. Finding About Khashoggi's Killing". The Wall Street Journal. February 7, 2019.
  34. ^ Fahim, Kareem (December 5, 2018). "Turkey issues arrest warrants for allies of Saudi Arabia's crown prince". The Washington Post.
  35. ^ Enes Can, Muhammed (December 5, 2018). "Turkey: Arrest warrants out for ex-Saudi officials". Anadolu Agency. The decision of the court came after Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor's Office demanded arrests of Saud al-Qahtani, a top aide to the crown prince, and Ahmed al-Asiri, former deputy intelligence chief, for their alleged involvement in the killing.
  36. ^ "Saudis: No extradition of suspects to Turkey". Jiji Press. December 10, 2018. Archived from the original on December 10, 2018.
  37. ^ "Named as a key Saudi suspect in Khashoggi killing, former top royal adviser drops out of sight". The Washington Post. Retrieved 7 January 2019.
  38. ^ "Khashoggi case: Saudi refuses to confirm Qahtani's whereabouts". Al Jazeera. 8 January 2019.
  39. ^ Kirchgaessner, Stephanie; Hopkins, Nick (March 5, 2019). "Rumours grow of rift between Saudi king and crown prince". The Guardian.
  40. ^ "Guardian told it was target of Saudi hacking unit after Khashoggi killing". The Guardian. June 19, 2019.
  41. ^ Madawi al-Rasheed, 3 September 2019, Saudi Arabia's Mr Hashtag: Where is Saud al-Qahtani?
  42. ^ Carey, Glen (September 12, 2019). "Mystery Surrounds Saudi Crown Prince's Enforcer in Year Since Khashoggi Death". Archived from the original on September 14, 2019.

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