A US-based Saudi national employed by the kingdom’s royal family used an anonymous social media account to harass and threaten Saudi dissidents based in the US and Canada, while lying to an American spy agency about his ownership of the account.
According to multiple reports, citing federal prosecutors, a complaint was unsealed Tuesday in federal court in Brooklyn, a borough of New York City.
The complaint identified the Saudi citizen in question as Ibrahim Alhussayen, 42, who has been living in the United States on a student visa since 2013.
It's unclear how long Alhussayen has lived in the US, but court documents say he has been living in the country since at least 2013 on a student visa.
His LinkedIn account states that he was attending Jackson State University for graduate work, but the complaint also states that he had attended the University of Mississippi in Oxford.
Alhussayen “used an anonymous Instagram account to harass and threaten dissidents, most of them women,” said a report in The New York Times.
Alhussayen claims that "he works for the Saudi royal family,” said the report, adding that the complaint underscores “an aggressive effort” by the kingdom’s powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, aka MBS, and his top advisors “to muzzle critics of the government and its policies.”
He sent private messages in English and Arabic to deliver warnings like “If you have not been raised well by your family, we will discipline you,” and “MBS will wipe you of the face of the earth, you will see.”
One message in 2020 read: “Soon, I will know where you are and get you...”
An Instagram comment in the same year, left on the page of a woman who had criticized some Saudi policies, said, “I hope you will have the same fate/end up as Nada al-Qahtani,” referring to a Saudi Arabian woman, who had been shot to death by her brother.
The Saudi operative, who was taken into custody after an arrest warrant was issued on Saturday, has been charged with lying to the FBI after he alleged that he only runs accounts under his actual name and not a pseudonym.
According to prosecutors, Alhussayen also took an apparent interest in slain Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, taking screenshots of his Twitter posts before his death and keeping images of him on his phone.
Washington Post and Middle East Eye journalist Khashoggi, who was murdered and dismembered by a Saudi hit squad at the kingdom’s Consulate in Istanbul in 2018, used to be a vocal critic of the Saudi crown prince.
The CIA has concluded that the murder had been ordered by the Saudi royal.
The new revelations come as President Joe Biden prepares to visit Saudi Arabia next month, in a bid to rebuild strained relations with the kingdom.
Biden is set to meet with crown prince Mohammed Bin Salman in mid-July while he visits Riyadh, plans that have drawn widespread condemnation from human rights groups and some fellow Democratic politicians.
The oil-rich country’s leadership faces accusations of rampant human rights abuses, especially against religious minorities.
Biden's planned visit to Saudi Arabia "is a slap in the face to activists, dissidents, women human rights defenders, journalists, & everyday citizens - in Saudi and abroad - who have been imprisoned, disappeared, and murdered,” Project on Middle East Democracy said in a Twitter post recently.
Biden’s U-turn on Saudi Arabia, a country he once vowed to make a "pariah", comes in the wake of a worsening crisis in the global energy market and soaring oil prices, fueled by the war in Ukraine.
The war, now into its fourth month, has led to the biggest disruption in energy supplies in decades, forcing Biden to re-calibrate his position on Saudi Arabia, according to observers.