Saudi defector fears he is being hunted in London after bounty posted online
A Saudi police colonel who publicly criticized the kingdom’s leadership since his absence earlier this month says he fears for his life after a bounty was offered on Twitter for his whereabouts.
Rabih Alenezi, 44, told Middle East Eye that he contacted London’s Metropolitan Police on Sunday after a verified account purporting to belong to social media influencers in Jeddah offered 10,000 Arabic rulings ($2,662) to the find a former officer.
“Ten thousand Saudis will be awarded to whoever locates this person,” the post said in Arabic. “The search is on.”
Fans responded to the tweet, adding 1,000 Saudis ($266) to the bounty and suggesting London neighborhoods where he could be sheltering. One of them said that if they found him, they would be praised for what they would do to him. The original post and responses to it were still up on Monday evening at the time of publication.
“I am very afraid,” Alenezi said on Monday. “I am afraid, especially the Arabs, the strangers, someone knocking on the door, even when I take a bath.”
‘If we say to the crown prince, everything is yes, yes, yes, in the end, we will be in prison’
– Rabih Alenezi
“You know why? The crown prince, he is a crazy man. He didn’t take a lesson from what he did to him [Jamal] The murder of Khashoggi. When we deal with a crazy person, expect nothing.”
Alenezi said he did not expect to become a dissident and seek asylum when he decided to travel to the UK in February. He said he had “politely” avoided certain tasks for years.
He said he thought of the visit as an opportunity to clear his mind in a country he knew well from studying English and management in programs funded by the Saudi government.
But after two weeks, he began to wonder why he had never spoken out against human rights violations in his country. “I’ve never said this in my entire life. Why don’t I say this here in the UK?” he asked himself.
So he posted a tweet – which he also described as polite – asking the Saudi police to refuse to spy on people, to fight “ordinary crimes” and “bad people”. “You just need advice,” he said.
He said that he quickly called him a traitor and was ashamed, which made him realize that he was becoming – or had already become – disaffected. he he announced his defection and began speaking out critically online.
He expressed concern about forced disappearances, which Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman’s Vision 2030 strategy called disastrous and tweeted about the Howeitat tribe, which rights groups say were forcibly displaced to make way for the $500bn Neom megaproject.
Alenezi said that in 2020 he was asked to deploy to Tabuk, a nearly seven-hour drive north of the city of Arar where he lived, for a “security mission” to deal with protests against the demolition of houses for the project.
“I know they are doing something bad. That’s why I told them, ‘Guys, I’m sick’,” he said. “I wasn’t really sick, but I am sick of the crown prince.”
During Ramadan last year, he said he was asked to go to Qatif province, again far from Arar, to spy on Shia Muslims praying at mosques and monitor their activities. To violate anyone’s rights, he said he told his superiors that he had planned a vacation with his family and was unable to make it.
Tiger squad is ‘still there’
Privately, he said he warned police colleagues that they should question orders from the crown prince and informed the Tiger Squad, the secret unit set up under the crown prince to target Saudi dissidents. Assassination of Saudis within the kingdom and abroad, including Khashoggi.
“Those people killed Khashoggi and now they are in prison. So if we say to the crown prince, everything is yes, yes, yes, finally, we will be in prison,” he said he told colleagues.
“The Tiger Squad is still there,” he said. “Some of them are in prison, but they hired other officers.”
He admitted that the Saudi government had been very generous to him, funding his education in both the UK and the US, where he completed courses at a police academy in Arizona and trained with the Phoenix police, according to confirmation he shared with MEE.
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“I have a car, a good house. My life was perfect. But it’s not about money and houses. It’s about my dignity,” he said.
Alenezi said he thinks he is afraid of the Saudi leadership and has attracted the attention of hundreds of pro-Saudi social media accounts because they believe other officials will do the same.
“They are very afraid because I am an example,” he said.
In the few weeks he has been in the UK, he said he has seen a steady increase in the number and severity of online attacks. His Twitter account was briefly shut down. After replacing it, it was hacked and is still down.
The same Twitter account that posted the bounty for the Alenezi site reported calling a restaurant on Edgware Road last week to shut down the ex-officer doing a live Tik Tok speaker on Saudi Arabia. The account said he analyzed the restaurant’s furniture, found it using Google maps, and then made the call.
Abdullah Alaoudh, Saudi director at the Washington, DC-based Freedom Initiative, said the attacks on Alenezi are coordinated, systematic and have escalated very quickly.
Saudi Arabia regularly deploys troll armies to hunt dissidents abroad, but Alaoudh said he had never seen a bounty offered before.
“They’re trying to make an example of it by trying to shut it down. I think they want to assassinate him. I am not exaggerating,” he said.
Alaoudh said that he was in contact with Twitter about the Alenezi situation and that the company is aware of the situation, but there is “lack of action on their part”.
Twitter’s press team on Monday responded to MEE’s questions with a poo emoji, its new auto-response for all journalists.
The Metropolitan Police could not confirm at the time of publication whether they were investigating Alenezi’s case.
The Saudi embassy in the UK did not respond to MEE’s request for comment by the time of publication.
Meanwhile, other Saudi dissidents in the UK are watching the Alenezi situation carefully.
At a protest in front of the Saudi embassy on Friday, the TikTok video of Alenezi being turned off at the restaurant drew concern from some demonstrators who said how easy it was to track him down and convince staff to stop him.
One activist who fled the kingdom last year after some friends were arrested for criticizing the government told MEE on Monday that she was scared watching Alenezi’s experience, although she speaks out anonymously from abroad.
“I hope to reveal my identity one day and walk free,” she said. “As long as our identity is hidden, we cannot do so much for our people.”