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

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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

Pakistan rules out India’s role in Afghan peace process

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Islamabad: Pakistan has ruled out any role for India in the Afghan peace process, the media reported on Friday.

“India has no role in Afghanistan,” Foreign Office spokesman Mohammad Faisal said at the weekly media briefing on Thursday while responding to a query about Islamabad’s position on New Delhi’s part in the reconciliation process.

Faisal acknowledged that Pakistan has a difficult relationship with India, saying that despite Pakistan’s efforts for normalisation, no concrete progress could be achieved in ties with India, Dawn news reported.

 

“You all know that India is not willing to engage with Pakistan,” he reminded.

Faisal’s remarks were in sharp contrast to what Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi had told the National Assembly last month.

“Since India is present in Afghanistan, its cooperation in this regard (facilitating a negotiated settlement of the Afghan conflict) will also be required,” he had told legislators.

Meanwhile, US President Donald Trump’s Special Envoy on Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad arrived in Pakistan on Thursday to discuss with the senior civil and military leadership the latest efforts to bring peace to the war-torn country.

Khalilzad, who met Taliban representatives last month in Abu Dhabi, is leading an inter-agency delegation to India, China, Afghanistan and Pakistan from January 8-21 to “facilitate a negotiated settlement to the conflict in Afghanistan”.

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US, India in talks over strategic missile defence cooperation: Pentagon

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Washington: The Trump administration has discussed a potential missile defence cooperation with India as part of its effort to deepen the bilateral strategic partnership, the Pentagon has said, asserting that New Delhi is a “key element” in America’s Indo-Pacific strategy.

The Pentagon’s announcement in the 81-page ”Missile Defence Review” report released by President Donald Trump gains significance in view of India placing a USD 5 billion order to purchase S-400 air defence system from Russia, for which the US had publicly expressed its displeasure.

Noting that the threats posed by offensive missile capabilities are no longer limited to a few regions around the world, the Pentagon in its report said there were now a number of countries in South Asia that are developing an advanced and diverse range of ballistic and cruise missile capabilities.

 

“Within this context, the United States has discussed potential missile defence cooperation with India. This is a natural outgrowth of India’s status as a Major Defence Partner and key element of our Indo-Pacific Strategy,” said the Pentagon report on Thursday.

The report, which identifies missile development projects by Russia and China as major threats to the US, did not give any further details about its potential missile defence cooperation with India.

The US has shown reluctance to offer its missile defence system to India.

Given the tough neighbourhood that India is in, New Delhi several years ago had approached US and expressed its desire to acquire a missile defence system from it, particularly the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence system popular as THAAD.

The previous Obama administration was not very forthcoming in sharing its advance missile defence system with India, following which New Delhi went ahead to procure it from Russia.

As part of its Indo-Pacific strategy, the Trump administration now seems to be more than inclined to let India procure its missile defence system with talks between the two countries having already started.

“We will deepen our strategic partnership with India and support its leadership role in Indian Ocean security and throughout the broader region,” said the 2017 National Security Strategy of the US, which has been mentioned in the Pentagon report.

The Missile Defence Review report said that the cornerstone of US’ security and diplomacy in the Indo-Pacific region is its strong bilateral alliances with Japan, South Korea and Australia, and emerging security relationships with others such as India.

Japan and South Korea are working with the US to build missile defence systems that are increasingly interoperable with American defences and increasingly capable against regional offensive missile threats and coercion.

This cooperation includes bilateral missile defence training exercises with the US.

Australia participates in a trilateral discussion on missile defence with the US and Japan. The US and Australia meet annually to discuss bilateral missile defence cooperation. New areas of focus include joint examination of the challenges posed by advanced missile threats, it said.

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400 migrants detained after crossing under fence into US

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Washington: Nearly 400 migrants burrowed under a fence on the US-Mexico border earlier this week and crossed into the US, informed sources told CNN. US Border Patrol officers stationed in Yuma, Arizona, took about 375 migrants into custody after they had made it into the US, the officials said on Thursday, calling it an unusually large apprehension.

It was not immediately clear if the migrants voluntarily surrendered to Border Patrol officials or if they were caught after attempting to evade authorities. The “vast majority” of the group were family members arriving from Guatemala, said National Border Patrol Council President Brandon Judd.

“It`s the largest I`ve ever heard of,” said Judd when asked if this was a significant number for a single group. There are often groups of 20 to 30 people, sometimes as large as 100, apprehended in the Yuma area, according to a Customs and Border Protection official.

 

The incident comes as President Donald Trump continues to demand funding for new barrier construction on the US-Mexico border as the government shutdown entered its 27th day , saying there was a “crisis” at the border that can only be solved with the construction of new border walls or fencing.

In November, a group of around 80 migrants from Guatemala — primarily families — were apprehended by Border Patrol after climbing over the legacy landing mat border wall east of the San Luis Port of Entry.

Hours later, another group of around 80 people entered the US by digging a shallow hole underneath the same portion of the wall, according to CBP. There has been a recent spike in total Border Patrol apprehensions in Yuma, up from 2,117 in fiscal year 2017 to 26,244 last year.

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