US-based regime critic says Saudis tried to kidnap him

US-based regime critic says Saudis tried to kidnap him
US-based regime critic says Saudis tried to kidnap him

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Aden - Yasmine El Tohamy - A suspect Saudi agent attempted to kidnap a regime critic in the United States and bring him back to the kingdom, the man and multiple US and foreign sources have alleged.

Abdulrahman Almutairi - a 27-year-old comedian who has used his large social media presence to condemn Saudi Crown Prince and de-facto leader Mohammad bin Salman - says the FBI saved him from becoming the next Jamal Khashoggi.

"If I go back to Saudi Arabia, I'll be killed in the airport," Almutairi told The Daily Beast

"The Saudi government realised I was a threat," he said.

After the comedian used social media to criticise bin Salman over the killing of Saudi journalist Khashoggi, an unidentified Saudi man came with Almutairi's father on a flight to collect him and bring him against his will back to the kingdom, sources told The Daily Beast

Almutairi has previously discussed harassment he has received as a critic of the Saudi regime, detailing a mysterious phone call from a Saudi attempting to persuade him to return home for a "family reunion" in an interview with PBS.

On Thursday, the Saudi comedian revealed the alleged attempted kidnapping for the first time. "I couldn't afford to speak out earlier, my situation was so intense, and all I wanted was to get out of it," he said.

The social media influencer - whose YouTube channels have 200,000 subscribers, in addition to more than 200,000 followers on Instagram - says the harassment may have worked, however.

Almutairi told The Daily Beast he will no longer publicly criticise the Saudi regime.

"My criticism against the government won't do anything. It'll just turn more people against me," he said. "I'm trying not to use the term 'political dissident.' I want to influence my country for the better."

From supporter to critic

At the beginning of bin Salman's rise to power, Almutairi was a student of finance and marketing at the University of San Diego and used his burgeoning Snapchat and Twitter followings to praise the crown prince's so-called "reform" agenda.

For many young Saudis, Crown Prince bin Salman is seen as a positive, modernising influence. Under his rule, the ultraconservative kingdom has loosened social restrictions and opened itself up for international tourism and entertainment.

Almutairi did critique the rigid Saudi religious establishment, however.

Nevertheless, when bin Salman - widely known as MbS - denied involvement in the October 2018 killing of Khashoggi, Almutairi believed him.

"I was in denial," he said. "MbS would never do an atrocity like that."

As details of the murder emerged, Almutairi became more certain of MbS' role in overseeing the crime - something considered highly likely by the CIA and a United Nations expert who investigated the killing.

Almutairi began to tell his followers of his disillusionment with MbS, eventually denouncing the crown prince. He soon began to receive graphic death threats.

More disturbing, he says, are the message he still receives telling him to come back to Saudi Arabia, which he suspects are likely orchestrated by the government itself.

A source in Saudi Arabia informed him his life was in danger. He would later learn from an FBI official that his father had flown to Los Angeles without informing him, accompanied by a Saudi man Almutairi does not know but believes works for the royal court.

Sources said the FBI intercepted both men and sent them back on a flight to the kingdom before they could make contact with Almutairi. 

Shortly after the incident, Almutairi became homeless. Forced to drop out of school as Saudi Arabia revoked his government scholarship, monthly allowance and health insurance, he was for three weeks unable to afford rent or bills.

"It's really hard to process, suffering for what I had said. I wish Saudis would live like Americans. We deserve a better life," he said.

Almutairi rarely speaks to his family out of fear of putting them in danger. He believes his father was coerced to fly to the US.

UN special rapporteur Agnes Callamard says abduction is "part and parcel of the way the Saudi government has operated for years" but didn't tend to target victims outside of the royal family until bin Salman came to power.

"They will keep trying to lure people in the United States. The only reason why they haven't succeeded is because the US intelligence agencies are doing their job," she told The Daily Beast.

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