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Saudi Arabia's MBS encouraged Russian intervention in Syria, lawsuit claims

Former Saudi intelligence officer Saad al-Jabri accuses Mohammed bin Salman of actively 'encouraging Russian intervention in Syria'
Mohammed bin Salman and Vladimir Putin
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (left) encouraged Russia's Vladimir Putin to intervene in the Syrian war, former intelligence officer Saad al-Jabri alleges (AFP photo/Saudi Royal Palace/Bandar al-Jaloud)
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Washington

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) allegedly encouraged Russian President Vladimir Putin to intervene in the Syrian war in 2015, according to a new lawsuit filed in the United States by a former Saudi intelligence official.

According to court documents filed on Thursday, MBS spoke to Russian President Vladimir Putin five years ago, "encouraging Russian intervention in Syria" on behalf of Damascus, despite Saudi Arabia's public support for Syrian rebels. 

In a lawsuit brought against MBS and several in his inner circle, Saad al-Jabri said that in 2015 he participated in two official meetings with then-CIA director John Brennan, informing him that the Saudi prince had been in communication with Putin "at a time when Russia was not yet a party to the war in Syria". 

According to Jabri, Brennan was deeply concerned over the information.

Jabri said he reported Brennan's concerns to MBS, who responded to the news "with fury". 

The allegations paint Saudi Arabia as a country working both sides of the Syrian conflict, given the kingdom's long held military and financial support for rebels opposing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Not long after the alleged conversation between MBS and Putin, Russia entered the Syrian war on Assad's side, bolstering the government against the Saudi-backed rebels. 

A Saudi 'death squad'

The groundbreaking claim regarding MBS's alleged double-cross was found in details of a lawsuit brought by Jabri against the crown prince. The suit focuses on the claim that Saudi Arabia, under MBS's leadership, dispatched a group of hitmen to Canada to kill him. 

Jabri is seeking unspecified damages from MBS, alleging the crown prince "orchestrated an ongoing multi-year conspiracy by a Saudi government-sanctioned 'death squad' to torture and assassinate" the ex-intel officer. 

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Jabri, who is characterised in the suit as a "trusted partner of US intelligence officials", claims MBS dispatched a 50-person kill team dubbed "the Tiger Squad" in October 2018 - just two weeks after the murder of Saudi dissident and Middle East Eye columnist Jamal Khashoggi.

"The 'Tiger Squad' that was deployed to Canada included forensic personnel experienced with the clean-up of crime scenes, who carried with them two bags of forensic tools," the suit alleges. "The kill team was thwarted by attentive Canadian border security officials who were suspicious of their behavior at an airport checkpoint."

Jabri, who was reportedly a key go-between for Western spy agencies, sought refuge in Canada in 2017, just days before his former boss, Mohammed bin Nayef, was ousted by MBS, his younger cousin, in a palace coup.

The lawsuit alleges that Jabri was targeted because of his close ties with the US intelligence community, "intimate" knowledge of MBS's activities, and potential to undermine his influence with and support from the Trump administration.

"That combination of deep knowledge and enduring trust by top US officials is why there is virtually no one defendant bin Salman wants dead more than Dr Saad," the lawsuit says.