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Saudi crown prince encouraged Russia's military intervention in Syria, lawsuit claims

Saudi Arabia and Russia support opposite sides in the Syrian conflict [Getty]

Date of publication: 7 August, 2020

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A lawsuit filed by a former Saudi intelligence official says that in 2015, MbS was in communications with Putin, 'encouraging Russian intervention in Syria', despite Saudi support for the rebels
Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman spoke to Russia's President Vladimir Putin in 2015, encouraging him to intervene in the war in Syria, new court documents allege.

The claim is one of many contained in the lawsuit brought by former Saudi intelligence official Saad al-Jabri against MBS, over an alleged assassination plot against him while in exile in Canada.

Detailing the rise of tensions between himself and then-defence minister Prince Mohammed, also known as MbS, al-Jabri's lawsuit said that he had concerned then-CIA director John Brennan by telling him in a meeting that the prince had been in communication with Russian President Vladimir Putin. 

Brennan was distressed that bin Salman was "encouraging Russian intervention in Syria, at a time when Russia was not yet a party to the war in Syria," the document says.

After relaying Brennan's concern to MbS, he "responded with fury."

The revelation is surprising given that Saudi Arabia has been supporting Syrian rebel groups throughout the war.

The kingdom's stated stance on the Syrian conflict is that President Bashar al-Assad must not be part of a future Syrian government, and must surrender power to a transitional administration or be removed by force.

Read also: Saudi crown prince sent hit squad to Canada to kill former intelligence official, lawsuit claims

Riyadh has also provided significant amounts of military and financial assistance to several Syrian rebel groups, including Islamist factions.

The Saudi leadership voiced criticism of the Obama administration after it decided not to intervene following the 2013 chemical attack thought to have been carried out by Assad's forces, and which killed hundreds of civilians in Ghouta.

The meetings are thought to have taken place at least two months before Russia's intervention in the conflict in September 2015, launching air strikes against opposition fighters, saying it was targeting not just the Islamic State (IS) group, but "all terrorists".

The Russian intervention is widely acknowledged to have been instrumental in keeping Assad - whose regime had been drastically weakened by 2015 - in power.

Jabri has lived in exile in Toronto, Canada, since 2017, when bin Salman ousted former Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef and took his post. Jabri is considered to have acted as bin Nayef's right-hand man, overseeing much of the kingdom's intelligence operations.

The former intelligence official has come under increasing pressure to return to the kingdom in recent months.

Saudi authorities accuse him of embezzling $11 billion in state funds and have arrested two of his adult children and his brother in a bid to see him return to Riyadh.

A 106-page civil lawsuit filed by Jabri's lawyers on Thursday describes how the crown prince allegedly sent a team of hitmen to Canada.

Jabri has been targeted by MbS due to his knowledge of the crown prince and close relationship with Washington, the unproven lawsuit claims.

"Few places hold more sensitive, humiliating and damning information about defendant bin Salman than the mind and memory of Dr. Saad — except perhaps the recordings Dr. Saad made in anticipation of his killing," it reads according to CBC.

"That is why defendant bin Salman wants him dead, and why defendant bin Salman has worked to achieve that objective over the last three years."

Jabri's brother and two adult children are being held by Saudi authorities in incommunicado detention in a bid to coerce him back to the kingdom to face punishment, according to Human Rights Watch.

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