Middle East

Saudi crown prince a ‘psychopath’, says exiled intelligence officer

A former senior Saudi intelligence officer has claimed that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is a “psychopath with no empathy” who once boasted that he could kill the kingdom’s ruler at the time, King Abdullah, and replace him with his own father.

In an interview on US television, Saad Aljabri, who fled Saudi Arabia in May 2017 and is living in exile in Canada, also said he had been warned by an associate in 2018, after the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, that a Saudi hit team was heading to Canada to kill him.

Aljabri told 60 Minutes on CBS he was warned “don’t be in a proximity of any Saudi mission in Canada. Don’t go to the consulate. Don’t go to the embassy.” When he asked why, he said he was told “they dismembered the guy, they kill him. You are on the top of the list.”

Some details of the alleged murder plot, which were detailed in litigation in the US and Canada, have already been reported. But the 60 Minutes interview represents the first time Aljabri has publicly spoken about his break with Prince Mohammed.

He also spoke of the plight of his two youngest children, Sarah and Omar, who were arrested and are in prison in Saudi Arabia in what is widely seen as an attempt to force their father back to the country.

“I have to speak out. I am appealing to the American people and to the American administration to help me to release those children and to restore their life,” he said.

The Saudi government did not address Aljabri’s allegations but said in a statement that “Saad Aljabri is a discredited former government official with a long history of fabricating and creating distractions to hide the financial crimes he committed”.

Aljabri was a close adviser to Mohammed bin Nayef, a former crown prince and interior minister who is being held in Saudi Arabia and has been seen as a potential political rival to Prince Mohammed. “I expect to be killed one day because this guy will not rest off until he see me dead,” Aljabri said.

Aljabri has strong support in the US, where former intelligence officials have credited their Saudi counterpart for helping to save American and Saudi lives following the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the US.

On 60 Minutes, the former acting CIA director Mike Morell said Aljabri was “honourable”. Intelligence relayed to the US by Aljabri – Morell said – had led to the interception of bombs that had been planted by al-Qaida in 2010 in two desktop printers that were being flown as cargo on two planes.

Morell said there were also other examples of Aljabri saving the lives of Americans, but that they were still classified.

Saudi Arabia has previously denied there was an attempt on Aljabri’s life in Canada. The kingdom has also denied that the murder of Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist, was ordered by Prince Mohammed. But a declassified US intelligence assessment – released earlier this year – concluded the murder was approved by the crown prince.

According to Aljabri’s account of alleged plans to assassinate him in Canada, a six-person team landed at Ottawa airport in mid-October 2018, lied to Canadian border officials about knowing one another, and carried suspicious equipment for DNA analysis. The team was deported by Canada after being intercepted by the authorities at the airport. The Canadian government has said: “We are aware of incidents in which foreign actors have attempted to threaten those living in Canada. It is completely unacceptable.”

The serious allegations about Prince Mohammed come as Saudi Arabia is seeking to improve its image around the world, including through the recent takeover of Newcastle United by the Public Investment Fund, the Saudi-controlled sovereign wealth fund where Prince Mohammed serves as chairman.

In the interview, Aljabri portrayed Prince Mohammed as reckless and untrustworthy.

He is, Aljabri said, “a psychopath with no empathy, [who] doesn’t feel emotion, never learned from his experience.”

The former intelligence chief also claimed Prince Mohammed “feared” the information Aljabri knew about him, including a 2014 recorded discussion between Prince Mohammed and the then crown prince, Bin Nayef, in which Prince Mohammed allegedly said he could kill the sitting king, Abdullah, to clear the throne for his own father, Salman.

“He told him, ‘I want to assassinate King Abdullah. I get a poison ring from Russia. It’s enough for me just to shake hand with him and he will be done’ … We took it seriously,” Aljabri said.

He added that he knew of two copies of the recording, and that he knew where they were located.

Saudi Arabia has in turn accused Aljabri of embezzlement and claimed he stole hundreds of millions of dollars from the kingdom’s coffers. The allegations were denied by Aljabri and downplayed by Morell.

“I don’t know if Dr Saad was corrupt in any way. I wouldn’t be surprised if he wasn’t because he’s such an honorable man. But I also wouldn’t be surprised if he was. Because everybody to some extent had their hand in the kitty. And King Abdullah allowed it, permitted it,” Morell said.

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