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Saudi dissidents fear ‘long arm’ of state after Khashoggi’s murder

Agencies

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WASHINGTON: The murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi has sent a chill through exiled dissidents, with many revealing discreet government attempts to lure them to their embassies as an apparent “trap” to return them to the kingdom.

Khashoggi, a critic of powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was killed inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, in what sources close to the government have said was likely an authorised rendition that went wrong.

Saudi exiles in three different countries have recounted what appeared to be official attempts to bait them into the kingdom’s diplomatic missions, exposing them to potentially the same fate as Khashoggi.

 

Omar Abdulaziz, a 27-year-old Saudi activist exiled in Canada, said he was approached earlier this year by Saudi officials who urged him to visit their embassy with them to collect a new passport.

“They were saying ‘it will only take one hour, just come with us to the embassy’,” Abdulaziz, who rankled authorities with a YouTube show that satirised the Saudi leadership, said in a video posted on Twitter.

He refused to go, fearing a trap, and two of his brothers and a handful of his friends were arrested in the kingdom, he said, thus validating his suspicions.

The Washington Post said it received hours-long tapes from Abdulaziz of his conversations with those officials, which he secretly recorded.

Abdullah Alaoudh, a Saudi scholar at Georgetown, said he was subjected to a similar “plot” in Washington.

Last year, when Alaoudh, son of prominent cleric Salman al-Awda who is jailed and faces trial in the kingdom, applied to renew his passport at the Saudi embassy in Washington, he says he was told to return to the kingdom to complete what appeared to be basic formalities.

“They offered me a ‘temporary pass’ that would allow me to return to Saudi Arabia,” Alaoudh said.

“I knew it was a trap and just left with my expired passport.”

The testimonies suggest what appear to be growing Saudi efforts to snare overseas critics of the government or entice them to return since Mohammed bin Salman, widely known as MBS, became crown prince last year.

The Saudi information ministry did not respond to requests for comment, but sources close to the regime have also hinted at a broader programme to bring dissidents back to the kingdom.

“MBS probably authorised a rendition (of Khashoggi), which, if so, was ill-advised, but leaders and governments make mistakes, sometimes horrible ones,” tweeted Ali Shihabi, head of pro-Saudi think tank Arabia Foundation said to be close to the government.

“The cover-up was ill-advised and incompetent.” Khashoggi, who went into exile in Virginia last year and openly criticised Prince Mohammed’s growing crackdown on dissent, disappeared after entering the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul where he sought documents related to his planned wedding to his Turkish fiancee.

After an uproar globally, Saudi Arabia admitted what it vigorously denied for two weeks — Khashoggi was killed inside the consulate.

“The strongest and most chilling message here was that no one is safe from Saudi Arabia’s brutal reach,” Sherif Mansour, from the Committee to Protect Journalists, wrote for the Carnegie Middle East Centre.

Before his murder, a Saudi aide to the crown prince had contacted Khashoggi in recent months to offer him a senior job in the government if he returned to Saudi Arabia, a friend of the columnist said. Khashoggi declined, fearing it was a ruse, the friend added.


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International

India asks China to be sensitive to its concerns

Sakeena Banday

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New Delhi: Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale held talks with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and discussed the progress in bilateral ties since the Wuhan summit last year and said both sides were implementing the decisions in a manner in which “we are sensitive to each other’s concerns”.

His meeting with Wang, who is also the State Councillor, a high-level post in the hierarchy of the ruling Communist Party of China, took place as both the countries grappled with a host of issues, including Beijing’s continued attempts block efforts list Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Muhammed chief Masood Azhar as global terrorist by the United Nations.

In his opening remarks, Gokhale said it has been year since Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping met at the Chinese city of Wuhan where the two leaders reached many understandings.

 

He said both sides were making efforts to implement the understandings reached at the Wuhan meeting.

“As your excellency said we will work together with the Chinese side to deepen understanding to strengthen trust to implement the decisions that are taken by leaders and to do it in a manner in which we are sensitive to each other’s concerns,” he said.

He also referred to the “brisk” political exchanges since the Wuhan summit, including Wang’s visit to New Delhi to launch people to people mechanism and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj is “looking forward to come to China this year”.

Gokhale, who arrived in Beijing on Sunday is also scheduled to hold detailed talks with Chinese vice foreign minister Kong Xuanyou on Monday.

In his opening remarks, Wang said China and India are two emerging market countries besides neighbours and “each other’s strategic partners.”

“In that sense, it is important for the two countries to work together to increase strategic communication, deepen mutual political trust and strengthen strategic cooperation on international and regional issues.

“Given that it is timely and important for you to have regular consultations with the Chinese side,” he said.

One of the issues that was expected to figure during this round talk was China’s continued attempts block efforts list JeM chief Azhar as global terrorist by the UN.

China blocked Azhar’s designation for the fourth-time recently stalling efforts by the United States, the United Kingdom, France move at the 1267 UN counter terrorism committee following the February Pulwama terrorist attack. It was the first technical hold put up by China post Wuhan summit.

Also, India continues to have strong reservations to join China’s mega Belt and Road Initiative due to its objections over the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor as it is being laid through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.

Both the issues have become major irritants in the bilateral ties.

In order to counter China’s technical hold in the 1267 committee, the US, the UK and France have taken the Azhar issue to the UN Security Council, which Beijing firmly opposed, saying that it should be resolved by the UN’s 1267 Sanctions Committee.

China also said the issue moved towards settlement and accused the US of attempting to scuttling its resolution.

Gokhale’s visit also coincides with China holding its biggest international event, the second Belt and Road Forum next week to showcase its BRI projects.

India, like the first BRF held in 2017, is reportedly not attending its second edition being held here from April 25-27.

Foreign Minister Wang said on Friday that differences over the BRI would not come in the way of the development of India-China relations and China is preparing for a Wuhan-style summit meeting this year.

He also said the CPEC is an economic project and has nothing to do with the sovereignty issues.

“One of our differences is how to look at the BRI. The Indian side has their concerns. We understand that and that is why we have stated clearly on many occasions that the BRI including the CPEC is only an economic initiative and it does not target any third country and has nothing to do with the sovereign and territorial disputes left from history between any two countries,” he said.

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Interpol offers Lanka help to probe Easter blasts

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Colombo: The Interpol on Monday said it is ready to offer full support to the Sri Lankan authorities in investigating the country’s deadliest terror attack that killed 290 people in a series of eight blasts that tore through churches and luxury hotels in the country.

Interpol Secretary General Jurgen Stock in a Twitter message said, “Interpol strongly condemns the horrific attacks and has offered its full support to the investigation being carried out by national authorities.” Paris-based Interpol is an organisation which facilitates worldwide police cooperation. Stock said Interpol can deploy an Incident Response Team at the request of a member country to provide on-site support during a crisis situation.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and friends of the victims,” he tweeted. Eight coordinated explosions targeted Easter worshippers and high end hotels popular with international guests.

 

The blasts targeted St Anthony’s Church in Colombo, St Sebastian’s Church in the western coastal town of Negombo and another church in the eastern town of Batticaloa as the Easter Sunday mass were in progress. Three explosions were reported from the five-star hotels – the Shangri-La, the Cinnamon Grand and the Kingsbury.

According to the Government Analysts Department, a total of seven suicide bombers carried out the devastating blasts killed 290 people and injured 500 others.There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but police on Monday arrested 24 people and declined to give further details.

The blasts – the deadliest attacks in the country’s history shattered a decade of peace in the island nation since the end of the brutal civil war with the LTTE.

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IS says it’s behind attack on security building in Saudi Arabia

Agencies

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Riyadh: The militant Islamic State (IS) group says it was behind an attack the previous day on a Saudi security building in the town of Zulfi in which all four gunmen were killed and three security officers were wounded.

The kingdom’s state-run al-Ekhbariya news channel had reported that police foiled Sunday’s attempted attack. Zulfi is about 250 kilometres north of the capital, Riyadh.

Videos circulating on social media show dead gunmen with machine guns and explosive devices.

 

The IS-linked Aamaq news agency released a video on Monday of the four alleged “martyrdom-seekers” behind the attack. It’s unclear when the footage was filmed.

In the video, one man criticises the Saudi royal family and says the attack is to avenge Muslims imprisoned in the kingdom, Syria and Iraq.

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