A prominent Saudi dissident who is living in exile in Canada said he was recently warned by Canadian authorities that he was a “potential target” of Saudi Arabia and that he needed to take precautions to protect himself.
Omar Abdulaziz, a 29-year-old activist who had a close association with Jamal Khashoggi, the murdered Washington Post journalist, told the Guardian that he believed he was facing a threat to his safety and that the Canadians had credible information about a possible plan to harm him.
The video blogger and activist, who has nearly half a million Twitter followers, has spoken publicly about his fight against Saudi government propaganda and its use of internet trolls on Twitter.
In 2018, researchers at Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto, who track the use of spyware, told Abdulaziz that they believed his phone had been hacked by a network they associated with Saudi Arabia. At the time of the alleged hack, Abdulaziz was in regular contact with Jamal Khashoggi, the Washington Post columnist who was later murdered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
After the alleged hack, several members of Abdulaziz’s family and friends were arrested in Saudi.
While Abdulaziz has lived for years with the knowledge that he was one of dozens of Saudi dissidents in the crosshairs of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the de facto Saudi ruler, the activist said that the recent warning indicated a current and credible threat.
“[The Canadian authorities] received some information regarding my situation that I might be a potential target,” Abdulaziz told the Guardian. “MBS and his group or – I don’t know – his team, they want to harm me. They want to do something, but I don’t know whether it’s assassination, kidnapping, I don’t know – but something not OK for sure.”
Abdulaziz said it was the first time that he had directly been called by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), the country’s federal police force.
“They asked me, ‘What do you think about it?’ I said, ‘I’m happy,’” Abdulaziz said, laughing. “I feel that I’m doing something. You know, if you’re not doing anything that bothers MBS, that means you’re not working very well.”
An attorney for Abdulaziz confirmed the account.
“In his previous contacts with the Canadian government, he was always informed about the general threats and risks to him, but this time it is different,” said Alaa Mahajna. “The warning about serious threats to his life was different this time. It was formal and conveyed with a clear sense of urgency and advice to take precautions. It felt more credible and more concrete.”
Abdulaziz said he believed that such alleged threats emanated from the kingdom as a way to stifle dissent, but that he would continue to challenge the Saudi government. “I don’t want to tell you that I’m scared. I’m not, honestly. But you have to take some precautions to be ready,” he said.