As set out in the court papers, Almuzaini was first seized in Dubai on Sept. 26, 2017, by United Arab Emirates security officials and sent to the kingdom; he vanished on Aug. 24, 2020, after visiting a senior Saudi state security official, and has not been seen since. His description of his treatment in the intervening years — at two Saudi prisons, and at Riyadh’s Ritz-Carlton hotel, where suspected opponents of the regime were detained in 2017 — offers a horrifying view of the lengths to which the regime under the crown prince, known as MBS, has gone to punish its perceived enemies.
His narrative, translated from Arabic and filed in June in an Ontario court, was sent via text message to the cellphone of his wife, Hissah, in September 2019, according to her family, with instructions that she release it if he were to disappear again. The chilling description, reminiscent of memoirs of suffering by political prisoners in Iran, Chile, South Africa and the Soviet Union, offers the most extensive personal account to date of the alleged brutal conduct of the Saudi regime.
“The days passed, and I continued to fear hearing the keys and the door opening,” Almuzaini writes at one point. “I didn’t know what was in store for me, whether torture or elimination.” He describes how one interrogator ordered him to kiss his shoe, then struck his head. “The sad irony is that there was no other agency I had helped more than the Mabahith and Special Affairs, and now I was under their arrest and subject to their torture,” Almuzaini writes of the Saudi secret police.
The degree of psychological torture and attempted dehumanization that Almuzaini describes is as horrifying as the physical abuse. At one point, his interrogator told him to reach into a box and choose a whip for his next beating; when he hesitated, the interrogator chose one and used it to lash Almuzaini while urinating. Almuzaini was instructed not to say his name, and instead refer to himself as “9,” At another point, he was ordered to eat his dinner off the floor, like a dog.
“I was beset with worry on all sides,” Almuzaini recounts. “I worried for my mother, wife, children, sisters, uncle, companies, employees, my future, the pain in my body, the humiliation, and the fear. In reality, feelings cannot describe it. All I’ll say is that the injustice and repression of mankind were intense. I felt weak and powerless.”
The Saudi Embassy in Washington, informed about the allegations of torture by Almuzaini and his wife, declined to comment, as did the embassy of the UAE.
Almuzaini, a graduate of the Saudi police academy, joined the Interior Ministry and supervised airline projects for Mohammed bin Nayef, who was then in charge of the ministry’s counterterrorism projects and later interior minister and crown prince. According to Almuzaini’s account, when MBN decided to create a private airline company called Alpha Star Aviation Services, he asked Almuzaini to run it. Later, when MBN formed his own commercial private airline company, Sky Prime Aviation, he asked Almuzaini to oversee it in Dubai.
Lawyers for Saad Aljabri, a former Saudi intelligence official, have argued in legal documents that these air operations were initially created to shield Saudi and U.S. covert intelligence operations against terrorist groups.
Almuzaini’s alleged crime, judging from the questions he says he was asked by his torturers, was that he aided in a plot to skim money from the two airlines — something he says he denied throughout the torture sessions. Aljabri has similarly denied any involvement in misusing funds. Companies controlled by the Saudi government have sued Aljabri in Canada, where he now lives, to recover money they claim he stole.
But Almuzaini’s real offense, as outlined in the court documents, may have been that he married Hissah, the daughter of Aljabri. MBS, a rival of MBN, has been pursuing Aljabri since 2017, when he deposed MBN as crown prince and Aljabri fled the kingdom. MBS has been trying to force him to return to the kingdom since then.
Almuzaini’s wife described one gruesome moment that her husband had confided. “He said that once, before he was struck a hundred times without pause, he was told ‘this is on behalf of Saad Aljabri,’ and ‘this is what you get for marrying his daughter,’” she wrote. “Sometimes, the interrogators told Salem while beating him that ‘we are adding extra lashes and beatings because your father-in-law is not here, so you can take his portion.’”
The Almuzaini affidavit was filed to support Aljabri’s claim that, as his lawyers argue in a recent court filing, MBS has “sought to consolidate his power by persecuting his perceived rivals under the guise of an ‘anti-corruption’ campaign” and that payments to Aljabri “were fully authorized and approved” by MBN and other Saudi authorities.
The alleged treatment of Almuzaini is just one example of MBS’s seeming obsession with Aljabri’s family. The crown prince blocked two of Aljabri’s then-teenage children, Omar and Sarah, from leaving the country in 2017, when he began his internal putsch to consolidate power and has used them as seeming hostages to try to force their father to return to the kingdom. Omar and Sarah are now imprisoned. I described their plight in The Post in June 2020, and it was featured in a recent report by Human Rights Watch. Aljabri’s friends, relatives and business associates have also been detained.
After Jamal Khashoggi was murdered in Istanbul in October 2018 on what the CIA says were the orders of MBS, Almuzaini had a flash of recognition. He told his wife that the people who were interrogating him included Maher Mutreb, publicly identified as the leader of the Istanbul hit team, and seven of its other members, according to his wife’s affidavit. Among those present during his torture was MBS’s close assistant, Saud al-Qahtani, the affidavit alleges.
In a bizarre irony, two planes owned by Sky Prime, the airline Almuzaini helped run for MBN, were used to transport to Istanbul the hit team that killed Khashoggi, after MBS had appropriated the company, according to court documents filed by Aljabri’s lawyers.
When Almuzaini was held at the Ritz-Carlton for about six weeks starting in late 2017, the torture stopped, according to his wife’s affidavit. The shakedown was now about getting money — as was the case with about 400 other prominent Saudis, including princes and global financiers, who were rounded up at the Ritz-Carlton in November 2017 and forced by MBS’s operatives to hand over assets.
“We’re going to take all of your money,” Almuzaini writes that he was told at the Ritz-Carlton. “We don’t recognize the contracts or any of your nonsense. We’re going to return the money to the state.” He eventually agreed to sign over 400 million Saudi riyals, about $106 million at current exchange rates.
Almuzaini wrote to his wife: “It wasn’t enough for them to torture and imprison me, but they had to take my money, too. Why was all of this happening? Why all the injustice? I didn’t do anything wrong or commit any sin.… I had offered my services and accomplished many things for the nation. I had helped keep it safe.”
Concluding his searing narrative, Almuzaini says of his captors, “In all honesty, the only words I have to describe them were hypocrites who corrupted the earth.”