Former royal adviser Saud al-Qahtani helped murder Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, tried to kill other Saudi exiles abroad, and tortured women's rights activists in a secret Saudi prison.
Al-Qahtani also engaged in surveillance and hacking against Saudi journalists and human rights activists. He dictated messages to Saudi writers and social media users, and at least two who refused to obey his dictates are now in prison. Until Khashoggi's murder, al-Qahtani was a close senior advisor of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin-Salman (MBS) who has said that he acts under guidance from MBS.
"Al-Qahtani was a loyal implementer of MBS's violent orders, locally and internationally," said Abdullah Alaoudh, Gulf Director at DAWN. "If you want to understand who MBS is, look at the trail of murder, torture and oppression al-Qahtani has left behind."
Saud al-Qahtani has been a close adviser of MBS, and, according to the US intelligence community, was one of the Saudi officials behind the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. A U.S. intelligence report concluded that both MBS and al-Qahtani planned the murder, and 29 countries, including the US, Canada, the UK, and all 26 countries in the European border-free Schengen area, imposed travel bans against al-Qahtani for his role in the murder.
The U.K. and U.S. also imposed economic sanctions on al-Qahtani. Turkish prosecutors indicted him for his role in the murder and are currently trying him and other implicated Saudi government officials. US intelligence services concluded that al-Qahtani was unlikely to act without MBS's knowledge and permission. Al-Qahtani has tweeted, "I am an employee and a faithful executor of the orders of my lord the king and my lord the faithful crown prince."
Al-Qahtani's involvement in Khashoggi's murder was consistent with a pattern he followed, using intimidation, threats, surveillance and hacking to promote media campaigns on behalf of the Saudi crown prince, according to published reports and multiple accounts of Saudi academics and activists who spoke to DAWN's researchers.
During 2017-2018, before the murder of Khashoggi, al-Qahtani reached out to numerous Saudis with large Twitter followings asking them to tweet in support of the government. Officials working for al-Qahtani threatened to arrest those who did not comply with its dictates. Those who did not comply were in fact arrested and, in the case of Khashoggi, murdered.
Al-Qahtani also oversaw the torture of prominent human rights activist Loujain Alhathloul, whom Saudi officials arrested for advocating for women's rights. During Alhathloul's forced disappearance in a secret prison in 2018, security officials, including al-Qahtani, subjected her psychological and physical torture.
They electrocuted, whipped, and sexually assaulted her and deprived her of sleep, according to her family. Al-Qahtani oversaw the torture on multiple occasions. According to family members, during one of the sessions, Mr. al-Qahtani told her, "I'll kill you, cut you into pieces, throw you in the sewer system. But before that, I'll rape you."
"Al-Qahtani — and his boss, the crown prince — should face justice for their crimes against peaceful Saudi activists," Alaoudh said.
"Al-Qahtani was a loyal implementer of MBS's violent orders, locally and internationally. If you want to understand who MBS is, look at the trail of murder, torture and oppression al-Qahtani has left behind."
- Abdullah Alaoudh, Gulf Director at DAWN
Al-Qahtani was born in 1978 and graduated from King Saud University with a bachelor's degree in law. He was trained at the Saudi air force and became sergeant. Later, he worked for the Saudi Royal Court from 2012-2019 in the field of media consultancy.
See the Loujain Alhathloul case.
DAWN requested a response from Mr. al-Qahtani by writing to the Saudi authorities on September 24, 2020, but no response was received by the time of publication.
Watch the video about Saud Al-Qahtani here:
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Tyrants need enablers who will implement their oppressive practices, even if it means abusing their fellow citizens. These agents often mask their complicity in the guise of professionals exercising their duties in offices, courtrooms, police stations, and interrogation rooms.
DAWN seeks to disclose the identity of the state agents who enable repression and, to make them recognizable at home and abroad. These individuals, whom DAWN calls "culprits," bear administrative, civil, moral, legal, and/or political responsibility for human rights and international humanitarian law violations.