How I Was Kidnapped by the CIA
Letter from Abu Omar al Masri Imprisoned in Egypt
Mohammed Al Shafey

London Asharq Al-Awsat- Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, otherwise known as Abu Omar al Masri, has provided detailed information to Asharq Al Awsat regarding his case, which is now at the center of a European-American dispute after the CIA was accused of abducting him in broad daylight from a street in Milan and handing him over to Egyptian authorities. In an eleven-page handwritten letter delivered to Asharq Al Awsat, Abu Omar revealed details about his abduction and said that Egyptian and American intelligence services had infiltrated his mosque and home prior to his abduction based on suspicions of links to Al Qaeda.

In the letter that was sent via the Islamic Observation Center, a London-based human rights group that monitors the developments of cases involving fundamentalists worldwide, Abu Omar said that whilst he was being interrogated, a security commander told him that he had visited Italy shortly before the abduction took place and described to him his mosque (the Islamic Cultural Institute) and the street where it is located, as well as the roads that lead to Abu Omar’s home in Milan and the floor that he lives on.

In his letter, which he sent from within Tora Prison in Cairo, Abu Omar expressed his belief that his mobile phone in Italy had been tapped. He explained that Austrian authorities summoned Sheikh Muhammad Shawqi, a preacher, and questioned him about all matters related to Abu Omar. He wondered if Austrian authorities had also played a role in his abduction in broad daylight at the hands of CIA agents on February 17, 2003…

This piece, from Asharq Alawsat, tells an interesting tale. We’re hearing one side only, of course, and it’s unlikely that we’ll hear any other. But this is a story that is being read by hundreds of thousands, if not millions.

December:29:2006 - 11:28 | Comments Off | Permalink

Arab News is focusing its news coverage on the Hajj, not surprisingly. Articles range from interviews with security officials responsible for the Mina area—which saw many deaths during last year’s Hajj—to traffic control.

The links below go to various articles. The headlines are a good guide to the subject matter:

Haj Reflections: Day One

Journey of a Lifetime Begins

Donors Help Pilgrims Realize a Dream

The Men at Al-Mashaer Base in Mina

Increased Security Not Stopping Illegal Transport

‘God Will Ensure Our Safety’

December:29:2006 - 11:17 | Comments Off | Permalink

Kingdom Frees 18 Former Gitmo Detainees
Samir Al-Saadi, Arab News

JEDDAH, 27 December 2006 — The Interior Ministry announced yesterday that 18 former Guantanamo detainees that returned from the US prison camp in Cuba earlier this year have been released from custody. The announcement comes a week after 11 other former detainees were released.

Twenty-eight of these former prisoners of the so-called US “War on Terror” are Saudi nationals while one is a Saudi-born resident whose parents also live in the Kingdom.

The Interior Ministry said that the 11 men released last week had completed prison sentences for various charges related to their detention in Guantanamo, while the charges against the 18 released yesterday were dismissed. To date, 51 Saudis have been released from Guantanamo while 74 still remain at the prison.

The Interior Ministry said in a statement that the cooperation of the freed Saudis is vital to ensure the return of the other men still languishing in Guantanamo.

Arab News carries this report on the release of Saudis, returned from Guantanamo this past spring and summer, back into the general population. It notes that they will continue to be watched and that their behavior will be used by the US in determining the release status of others still in the US detention facility.

December:27:2006 - 12:12 | Comments & Trackbacks (7) | Permalink

Saudi Prison Director Disputes Conflicting Human Rights Watch Statements
Turki Al-Saheil

Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat- Members of the US Human Rights Watch delegation (HRW) that concluded its mission in Saudi Arabia last week made conflicting statements to the press regarding the way in which Saudi authorities dealt with the delegation during its visits to the country’s prisons and detention centers.

Hassan al-Masri, a member of the delegation, said in remarks that were carried by the local media that Saudi authorities had allowed the delegation to visit Al-Ha’ir prison and speak with the detainees with complete freedom.

In contrast the Executive Director of the HRW Kenneth Roth claimed in a statement posted on the organization’s website, that Saudi “authorities allowed the delegation members to visit only one wing of the prison and prevented them from making a second visit to it.”

The inconsistency between the two statements made by the two HRW officials is evident. Al-Masri said that the delegation’s visit to the prison lasted for five hours, during which they were able to tour all its sections and to speak with the prisoners in private and with total freedom, while their online statement that the Saudi authorities allowed the delegation to visit a small number of prisoners in one single wing, the one that was best maintained.

Asharq Alawsat notes the conflicting reports about just what Human Rights Watch was or was not able to do during its three-week visit to Saudi Arabia. The article doesn’t clarify the issue, but does spell out the differing stories. I guess we’re going to have to wait for the trip report to be published to learn much more.

December:27:2006 - 12:04 | Comments Off | Permalink

The US Department of State renews its travel warning for those intended to visit the Kingdom. I don’t find anything particularly new in this bulletin; it seems more a required extension of the existing warning, which has a six-month ‘shelf life’.

December:23:2006 - 12:04 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

Saudi Lawyer Takes On Religious Court System
Rights Cases Used To Press for Change
Faiza Saleh Ambah

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — Saudi human rights lawyer Abdul-Rahman al-Lahem said he had been waiting years for a case like this: A woman and her daughter, both accused of promiscuity, were followed by the morals police as they left a private residence on the outskirts of the capital.

The police, who enforce adherence to Saudi Arabia’s strict religious laws, beat up the women’s driver and drove off with them locked in the back of the car. When the car broke down half an hour later, the officers abandoned them in the stranded vehicle.

An excellent article on the front page of The Washington Post about the efforts of Saudi attorney Abdul Rahman Al-Lahem to change the Saudi legal system. The piece notes several of the high-profile cases Al-Lahem is taking on, using his experience as a religious fundamentalist to argue for greater separation of church and state in the administration and interpretation of law.

Read the whole article; it’s worth the few minutes it’ll take.

December:23:2006 - 11:58 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

Royal Intrigue, Unpaid Bills Preceded Saudi Ambassador’s Exit
Robin Wright

For more than a year, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador journeyed to college campuses, chambers of commerce, town halls and world affairs councils across the United States in an ambitious campaign to improve his country’s image.

But Prince Turki al-Faisal’s goodwill tour, instead, produced millions of dollars in unpaid bills — and a tale of murky intrigue in the enigmatic desert kingdom.

The debts by one of the world’s wealthiest countries — owed to the very lobbyists, advisers and event organizers hired to promote the kingdom — have left a trail that weaves together bitter princely rivalries, diplomatic subterfuge and a policy clash over one of the thorniest issues of the day: what to do about Iran.

The Washington Post runs a couple of article on Saudi Arabia in its ‘A’ section today.

This one takes a look at the internal politics of the country as it affects its embassy in Washington. Contractors—from lobbyists to event organizers—appear to have gone unpaid for most of the last year. Rather than negligence on the part of the embassy or ambassador, it seems to be a matter of headquarters cutting off behavior it doesn’t support by closing the purse strings. This is a tactic well-understood by the US Congress, but I’m not sure we consider Saudi use of the tactic any sort of advance.

Nor are the reported secret visits by former Amb. Pr. Bandar anything particularly unusual in foreign policy. The role of ambassadors has been deeply undercut by the missions of ‘special envoys’ since at least the time of Henry Kissinger. It’s entirely possible that double tracking by the Saudi government was the cause for Pr. Turki’s decision to leave Washington.

The article has a lot of interesting detail. Unfortunately, too many sources are still anonymous, making it difficult to assess just how much of it is actually true. Nevertheless, there’s certainly a lot going on in the KSA and its Washington embassy. The article is definitely worth reading.

December:23:2006 - 11:50 | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink

There will be a short break in posting for the Christmas holiday. Perhaps another break will take place at New Years.

I hope all my readers have a great holiday.

December:23:2006 - 11:16 | Comments Off | Permalink

Pragmatic Non-Royal to be Next Saudi Ambassador to the United States

For Saudi watchers, some fascinating news has just made its way to The Washington Note.

A former staffer at the Saudi Embassy in Washington, ADEL AL-JUBEIR, who comes from a distinguished, yet non-royal family, has risen to such levels of esteem in the estimation of Saudia Arabia’s King Abdullah that he has been appointed the next Saudi Ambassador to the United States.

This is quite remarkable news. One of the rumored successors to Prince Turki al-Faisal, who recently resigned as Ambassador in Washington with plans to depart at the end of January 2007, was Prince Turki’s cousin, Prince Mohammed bin Nawaf Al-Saud, who is currently Saudi Arabia’s Ambassador to the United Kingdom. Prince Mohammed succeeded Prince Turki in London after having served as Ambassador to Italy after Turki was assigned to Washington. Many expected Prince Mohammed to move to Washington, but family concerns kept the Ambassador in the United Kingdom.

In what’s being billed as a ‘scoop’, Steven Clemons, writing at The Washington Note, offers up this story.

I’ve no reason to doubt it, but as with any scoop, there’s no other source for verification yet.

Adel Al-Jubeir should be familiar to many Americans. His was the face and voice of Saudi Arabia seen and heard during the period following 9/11 up until King Abdullah’s ascension last year. Al-Jubeir was the foreign policy advisor to then-Crown Prince Abdullah, trusted to get the message the Kingdom wanted transmitted to American publics. On becoming King, however, Abdullah had a Foreign Minister, Pr Saud Al-Faisal, obviating Al-Jubeir’s role.

If Al-Jubeir is indeed to be the next ambassador to the US, he brings several positives to the table, as this write-up as Time Magazine‘s “Person of the Week” article from 2002 describes.

As a non-royal, he is excused from intra-family arguments, allowing him to work at a technocratic level, much the same as the non-royal Ministers of Petroleum & Minerals have worked for the past 30 years. He does have the King’s confidence—always a plus for an ambassador—and he’s well-known in Washington. That’s a pretty good recipe for a successful ambassador.

[UPDATE 12/22: The Washington Post confirms that the Al^Jubeir has been nominated as the new ambassador. The US government has an opportunity to accept or reject him, but it's extremely unlikely that he would be rejected.]

December:21:2006 - 09:59 | Comments & Trackbacks (3) | Permalink

Losing the Shock Value
Mshari Al-Zaydi

The most dangerous thing that could happen in light of the mounting crises in our region is the loss of interest in them.

Let me ask you: does the news of a car bomb tearing through a crowded Baghdad street surprise you? Does it surprise you to hear the news of thousands of families in Gaza losing their monthly income or the outbreak of street warfare between the people of one of the world’s “poorest” countries, namely, Somalia? Even news of the opposition or the majority in Lebanon taking to the streets in protest is no longer a surprise!

I will not relate the news of the fall of Somalian cities one after another at the hands of militants of the “Islamic Courts,” (Africa’s version of Afghanistan’s Taliban), as such news is unsurprising. There was also a time when the news of a fierce clash between an Al Qaeda cell and Saudi security forces was part of this “unsurprising family” of news.

Writing in Asharq Alawsat, Mshari Al-Zaydi laments that Arab populations quickly become bored with atrocities happening within their midst. They seem to go from instant anger and rage to ‘ho-hum’, with the endless repetition.

I don’t think this is exclusive to Arabs, though. Attention spans seem to be rather short these days; understanding of history even more so.

December:21:2006 - 09:52 | Comments Off | Permalink

Demolition of Historic Madinah Mountain Halted
Yousuf Muhammad, Arab News

MADINAH, 21 December 2006 — As part of efforts to preserve the Islamic heritage and antiquities in the holy city of Madinah, Crown Prince Sultan has instructed the authorities to stop demolition works on the historic Salae Mountain, located northwest of the Prophet’s Mosque.

“The crown prince has also ordered the formation of a committee to study the present condition of the mountain and expropriate real estate properties near the mountain to complete the ring road surrounding it,” said a statement carried by the Saudi Press Agency.

Madinah Governor Prince Abdul Aziz ibn Majed thanked the crown prince for his action and praised his efforts in preserving Islamic landmarks.

Prince Sultan earlier instructed authorities to restore the centuries-old Osaifreen Mountain in Madinah.

Preservation of historic sites always has a cost, sometimes direct, sometimes indirect. As the cities of Medina and Mecca grow exponentially, they put pressure on historic cites. This isn’t special to Saudi Arabia: speak to any city planner or engineer in Rome or Athens.

Up until recently, though, private land owners and developers have had the upper hand in pushing their own plans forward, at the expense of history. This has been abetted by certain religious groups who fear that historical preservation can lead to idolatry.

This time, at least, it appears the preservationist are winning and have governmental support.

December:20:2006 - 22:05 | Comments Off | Permalink

The Human and the Not-So-Human
Abeer Mishkhas,

The anticipated first report by the Saudi Human Rights Society is likely to shed a good deal of light on many cases of unnoticed and unreported human rights abuses in the Kingdom. The fact that the report is going to be issued by a Saudi committee, the first of its kind, makes it even more interesting. Now we must be realistic and admit the possibility that the report will touch on important issues without going into details or that the wording will be cautious. Still, in any case, I still think it is an important step, one we definitely hope will be followed by a number of similar others.

The past week also saw the first visit by Human Rights Watch (HRW) to Saudi Arabia. In a press release the organization said “Saudi officials have talked to us candidly about human rights in the Kingdom,” and the organization obviously wanted free access to prisons. The fact that the committee was allowed into the country and given reasonably good access to many areas is a very good step forward and definitely worth following up with more cooperation. Such visits reflect well on our country and they show both development and changes. They also send a message that our country is like others — it has problems to be solved and we are aware of them and are willing to admit and discuss them.

Writing in Arab News, Abeer Mishkhas notes that the Saudi Human Rights Society is already making some improvement in the plight of average Saudis. There’s far more to be done, she says.

December:20:2006 - 21:56 | Comments Off | Permalink
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