By ISABEL DEBRE, Related Press
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — It started with a message that appeared on Danah al-Mayouf’s cellphone from an nameless Instagram account — a promise to assist her “crush” a $5 million lawsuit she confronted from a pro-government Saudi style mannequin.
However, the thriller texter mentioned, they needed to meet in particular person.
It was December 2019, a 12 months after the killing and dismemberment of outstanding U.S.-based Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi on the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, and al-Mayouf feared probably being kidnapped and brought again to the dominion like others.
“I can’t meet somebody I don’t know,” al-Mayouf in the end responded. “Particularly with all of the kidnappings and killings.”
Now, she’s glad she didn’t go. U.S. federal prosecutors have arrested the person, 42-year-old Ibrahim Alhussayen, on expenses of mendacity to federal officers about utilizing the faux account to harass and threaten Saudi critics — largely ladies — dwelling within the U.S. and Canada.
A spokesperson for the FBI declined to touch upon the costs. A lawyer for Alhussayen didn’t reply to a number of requests for remark, nor did the Saudi Embassy in Washington.
A criticism unsealed final month in federal courtroom in Brooklyn factors to a wider investigation into on-line harassment campaigns focusing on Saudi dissidents within the U.S. and their family members — a part of a development of transnational repression that has alarmed American authorities lately as varied autocratic governments search to punish critics abroad.
Earlier this 12 months, as an example, the Justice Division revealed a plot by operatives appearing on behalf of the Chinese language authorities to stalk, harass and surveil dissidents within the U.S.
The criticism comes as Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman continues to clamp down on opposition, each within the kingdom and overseas, whereas working to burnish a picture as a liberal reformer. The Saudi authorities has maintained previously that its critics incite violence, broadly outlined, and pose a risk to the dominion’s safety.
Nonetheless, President Joe Biden met — and shared a cordial fist-bump with — Prince Mohammed at a diplomatic summit final week in Saudi Arabia.
The scenes drew scathing criticism from fellow Democrats and rights teams after Biden had vowed to deal with the dominion like a “pariah” and deemed Prince Mohammed chargeable for Khashoggi’s killing.
From Jeddah, Biden mentioned he raised Khashoggi’s “outrageous” homicide with Prince Mohammed and was “simple and direct” about human rights points, with out elaborating.
“If something like that happens once more,” Biden mentioned of Saudi authorities efforts to focus on dissidents overseas, “they’ll get that response and far more.”
Whereas some accuse Biden of abandoning his promise to place human rights on the coronary heart of his international coverage along with his journey to the dominion, the arrest of Alhussayen in New York underscores that federal officers are more and more scrambling to stop these rights abuses from occurring on U.S. soil.
The dominion’s marketing campaign to silence criticism has performed out in America for a while. In 2019, U.S. prosecutors alleged Saudi Arabia recruited two Twitter workers to spy on hundreds of accounts together with these of Americans and Saudi dissidents.
“This man is simply the tip of the iceberg,” mentioned Abdullah Alaoudh, Gulf analysis director for Democracy for the Arab World Now, a Washington-based human rights watchdog. Alaoudh alleges he was additionally harassed by Alhussayen though he isn’t named within the criticism. “It’s a a lot bigger marketing campaign by the Saudi authorities to succeed in folks outdoors.”
Alhussayen was a graduate scholar at two universities in Mississippi. However on-line, the FBI says he was “@samar16490,” an account that ruthlessly insulted and threatened younger ladies on Instagram with the obvious intention of aiding the Saudi authorities.
Between January 2019 and August 2020, he allegedly maintained common contact with a Saudi authorities worker who reported to an official on the royal courtroom.
Prosecutors additionally mentioned Alhussayen had taken screenshots of Khashoggi’s Twitter posts courting again a 12 months earlier than his dying and saved photographs of Khashoggi on his cellphone this 12 months, revealing an obsession with Saudi dissidents.
Alhussayen was charged with mendacity to federal authorities throughout three interviews between June 2021 and January 2022. The FBI says he informed investigators he did not use any social media accounts aside from these in his personal identify.
Alhussayen’s victims routinely checked their telephones to find new waves of vitriolic assaults. As ladies essential of the Saudi authorities, they mentioned Alhussayen’s warnings have been a part of a strong marketing campaign unleashed every day by a military of social media trolls.
“MBS will wipe you off the face of the earth, you will notice,” Alhussayen reportedly informed al-Mayouf, the Saudi activist, referring to the crown prince by his initials.
He allegedly threatened al-Mayouf with the destiny of well-known Saudi ladies imprisoned within the kingdom, filling his texts with expletives.
From New York, al-Mayouf hosts a preferred YouTube present that delivers biting takes on Saudi-related present occasions and criticizes outstanding officers.
For her and some different victims, there have been indicators that Alhussayen’s intentions went past inflicting offense.
After al-Mayouf rejected his assist with the lawsuit and refused to fulfill, he lashed out. He tried to acquire her location, the courtroom submitting mentioned, “to surveil and additional harass” her in particular person. The criticism didn’t elaborate.
“I do imagine a few of them are right here, within the U.S.,” she mentioned of on-line bullies who flood her and her American fiancé with dying threats every day. “I’m afraid one thing may occur to me.”
She and her fiancé moved after pro-government accounts posted their house handle on Twitter.
Moudi Aljohani, a outstanding Saudi ladies’s rights activist who petitioned for asylum within the U.S, additionally believes Alhussayen was attempting to realize her belief and lure her right into a face-to-face.
After talking out on social media in opposition to the nation’s male guardianship system, Aljohani fled the dominion and the stifling grip of her dad and mom in 2016. She fears her household will kill her if she returns.
Aljohani mentioned she was shaken when Alhussayen reached out in 2020 from his faux Instagram account with a cryptic image of her shut member of the family.
However she, too, earned his ire when she did not reply. Alhussayen allegedly informed her he wished to spit in her face. He mentioned he hoped she met the identical destiny as Nada al-Qahtani, a Saudi girl who was fatally shot by her brother in a so-called “honor killing” within the kingdom in 2020.
Lately, Aljohani has kept away from publicizing her essential opinions of the federal government due to what she described as a relentless smear marketing campaign.
However a decrease political profile hasn’t helped. She, and the others, reside in concern of their authorities’s attain.
“The Saudis are paying huge cash to repair their picture and the way in which they see it, we’re ruining it for them,” Aljohani mentioned. “I really feel like there’s no place that’s protected.”
Related Press author Eric Tucker in Washington contributed to this report.
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