Saudi government behind 'kidnapping, disappearance' of dissident princes
The new information from a new BBC Arabic documentary "Kidnapped! Saudi Arabia's Missing Princes" implies that the abduction of the princes is an attempt by the ruling House of Saud to silence high-ranking defectors.
The information suggests that Saudi Arabia has operated a system of illegal abductions to capture dissident princes who have been critical of the government.
They are then allegedly forced back to Saudi Arabia, where they are not heard of again.
One of the three princes to have gone missing in the past two years is Sultan bin Turki. He is a grandson of King Abdulaziz bin Saud, the founder of Saudi Arabia, and a fierce critic of the ruling elite in the kingdom and its human rights record.
Sultan bin Turki boarded a private plane from Boston to Cairo in January 2016, according to the documentary. Two members of his entourage, who were aboard the jet with him and who spoke to the documentary makers on condition of anonymity, said they were surprised to see the plane landing in Riyadh.
"It wasn't until just before we landed that we realised we were in Saudi Arabia. As soon as the prince realised where we were, he got up without his walker and was trying to get towards the door," one of his staff told BBC Arabic.
"We looked out the window, and we just saw a bunch of people get out with their rifles slung over their chests and surrounded the plane," another member of staff said.
|The soldiers and cabin crew allegedly dragged Sultan bin Turki off the plane, along with his entourage of European and American nationals|
The soldiers and cabin crew allegedly dragged Sultan bin Turki off the plane, along with his entourage of European and American nationals. His staff were released a few days later, but Sultan bin Turki has not been heard from since.
Turki Bin Bandar met with Pakistan’s finance minister Shaukat Aziz in 2003 [Getty]
Other Saudi dissident princes have also gone missing since 2015, the same year King Salman took to the throne.
Prince Turki bin Bandar, once a major in the police force, fled to Paris in 2012 following his release from prison in Saudi Arabia after a bitter family dispute over inheritance.
From his new home, he began posting YouTube videos calling for reforms in the kingdom. The Saudi government tried to persuade him to return home but their calls fell on deaf ears.
Turki bin Bandar continued to post YouTube videos until July 2015, after which he disappeared.
His friend, blogger and activist Wael al-Khalaf spoke to the documentary makers about his sudden disappearance.
"He called me every month or two," al-Khalaf said. "Then he disappeared for four or five months. I was suspicious... I heard from a senior officer in the kingdom that Turki bin Bandar was with them. So they'd taken him, he'd been kidnapped."
Shortly after, a Moroccan newspaper reported that Turki bin Bandar was arrested in Morocco while on a visit from France and deported to Riyadh at the Saudi government's request.
|A Moroccan newspaper reported that Turki bin Bandar was arrested in Morocco while visiting from France and deported to Riyadh at the Saudi government's request|
Around the same time, Milan-based minor royal Saud bin Said al Nasr, who had signed a letter calling for the ousting of King Salman, also vanished.
His friend and fellow dissident Prince Khaled bin Farhan told BBC Arabic he believes Saud bin Said was tricked into flying to Rome to sign a business deal, only to be kidnapped and taken back to Riyadh.
Khaled bin Farhan, who himself fled the kingdom to Germany, believes that the fate of dissident princes is decided at the very top of the Saudi government.
|There were four of us family members in Europe. We criticised the family and its rule in Saudi Arabia. Three of us were kidnapped. I'm the only one left
- Prince Khaled bin Farhan
"This is how they deal with opponents inside the family in Saudi Arabia. Firstly, they stop you from travelling. Then, depending on whether you are well-connected or not, if they feel you are dangerous and may speak out, there's a risk of house arrest or even jail.
"With opponents abroad, there are international implications and a mistake can affect relations between countries. So decisions [to carry out kidnappings abroad] are made by the king."
"There were four of us family members in Europe. We criticised the family and its rule in Saudi Arabia. Three of us were kidnapped. I'm the only one left," he said.
Saudi Arabia has been ruled as an absolute monarchy since its foundation in 1932, with any opposition in the country facing brutal oppression.