ISTANBUL – Faisal al Jarba had fled his native Saudi Arabia late last year as the danger approached – after his patron, a powerful Saudi prince, was arrested and after a friend died under suspicious circumstances in government custody.
Jarba, a leading sheikh of a large tribe, traveled to the Jordanian capital Amman to meet relatives. But that was not enough. At the beginning of June, Jordanian guards surrounded his home and brought him in for questioning. He assured his family that he would be back soon.
Within a few days, however, he was driven to the border with Saudi Arabia and handed over to the Saudi authorities. Two people familiar with the details of Jarba's Forced Return have not been reported so far. No charges were filed against Jarba (45), and in the five months since his arrest, his family has not received any evidence that he is alive, people said.
The assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul last month by a team of Saudi Arabians sent from Riyadh has led to a renewed review of the persecution of Saudi Arabians abroad, from ordinary dissidents to defectors from the narrow Rows of the royal family.
Efforts to silence Saudi critics abroad extend over decades and over several monarchs. But Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the current de facto ruler of the kingdom, has persecuted the practice with a particularly ruthless zeal, analysts said, even turning the return of dissenters into a formal policy of the state, a Saudi official said persisted return should be negotiated and not enforced.
To bring back its critics, the Saudi government has tried to lure them back or win friendly regional governments to arrest them or even conduct outrageous kidnappings in Europe.
Saudi citizens disappeared from hotel rooms, were torn from cars, or had planes on which they were diverted. A Saudi dissident prince said in a court case that he had injected himself in the neck and flew with a private jet from Geneva to Saudi Arabia. Years later, after leaving the kingdom, he disappeared again and has not been heard since.
"We know they can kill you. You can destroy or use your family against you, "said a Saudi women's rights activist who applied for asylum in the United States last year. "It has always been like this," she said, adding that Muhammad's aggressive persecution of critics had further unsettled an already paranoid community of Saudi emigrants.
A Saudi Arabian government office did not respond immediately to an e-mail asking for a comment on the abduction.
Jarba was not a dissident, but he was wanted for his association with a branch of the royal family that had fallen out of favor with the Saudi leadership, the two persons who are familiar with the circumstances of his imprisonment. He was a longtime friend and confidant of Prince Turki bin Abdullah, a son of the late King Abdullah. Turki was arrested last November when Saudi Arabian authorities arrested hundreds of people including members of the royal family, business leaders, and government officials in an anti-corruption operation.
Although Jarba's friends and relatives had no contact with him, they were able to put together some of the details of his trip after being detained in the upscale district of Abdoun in Amman. After his arrest, Jarba was briefly held at the Saudi Embassy in Amman before being taken to the border. Once in Saudi Arabia, he spent several weeks in Jiddah, which serves as the government's capital during the summer months. At some point he was taken to Turkis house and asked to open safe vaults inside. There were conflicting reports about Jarba's ability to do so.
Jarba had assumed that he would be safe in Amman, the two said, because he was a sheikh in a large tribe, the Shammar, who maintained close relations with the Jordanian monarchy.
A spokeswoman for the Jordanian government did not immediately respond to a request for an opinion on Jarbas case.
But Jordanian officials later told Jarba's family that they had not been able to stop his abduction, according to one of the people who were briefed on Jarba's case.
"That's bigger than us," said the Jordanian officials.
The first reported case of a state-sponsored kidnapping by Saudi Arabia occurred on December 22, 1979, when Nasser al-Saeed, the country's first major opposition figure, disappeared from Beirut. He had fled the country after spending some time in prison to organize workers' strikes and uprisings. He continued his criticism in exile and praised the capture of the Great Mosque in Mecca in 1979 by militants as a popular uprising.
Following his disappearance, Saudi Arabia, which was ruled by King Khalid bin Abdulaziz at the time, said that reports that Saeed had been kidnapped and returned to Saudi Arabia by private jet were unfounded. It described Saeed as "insignificant".
While many who have disappeared will not be heard again, a victim, Prince Sultan bin Turki bin Abdulaziz, a grandson of the founder of Saudi Arabia, was able to publicize his kidnapping and, in 2014, a criminal case against Saudi Arabian officials in front of a Geneva citizen Court charge.
The complaint contained details of a courageous abduction in 2003 during the reign of King Fahd and named the son of the king, Abdulaziz bin Fahd, and the Islamic minister, Saleh bin Abdulaziz Al-Sheikh, as participants in the plot.
Sultan, whom friends refer to as the larger-than-life character – the kind of man who would order strawberry pate in the middle of the night – had been in Geneva for medical treatment. Abroad, he had publicly criticized the kingdom, calling for economic reform and highlighting human rights issues.
"He was warned to stop and he should come back and everything would be fine," said Clyde Bergstresser, a Boston lawyer detained by the prince. However, Sultan refused to return, and the king's son and ministers were sent to convince him.
Sultan was invited to a residence of King Fahd on the outskirts of Geneva. The prince later recalled interviews with Arabian satellite channels.
He arrived with his German security guards, who later proved they saw Sultan talking to a cousin in the pool before the two men went to the library without the guards. A short time later, five masked men arrived.
"He was thrown to the ground and injected with an anesthetic into the neck and intubated," said Bergstresser.
Sultan's security guards were told he had decided to voluntarily return to the kingdom.
After seven years in which Sultan said that he was largely held under house arrest, jail or hospital, he was allowed to leave Saudi Arabia after suffering severe respiratory illness. He flew to Boston for medical treatment and later filed his lawsuit.
However, on January 31, 2016, he made the mistake of boarding a Saudi plane organized by the Embassy in Paris after his father invited him to Cairo.
Monitors in the plane, which showed the flight route of the aircraft to Cairo, were suddenly dark, according to Bergstresser. And the plane landed in Riyadh, the Saudi capital. "He was forcibly taken off the plane, screaming and screaming. I have not heard from him since then, "Bergstresser said. He added that members of the prince's retinue were detained for several days and then released.
At about the same time, two other European-based princes disappeared. The cases were first reported by the BBC last year.
Prince Turki bin Bandar, known for his courageous tirades against the Saudi royal family, including murder charges, disappeared in 2015 after fled Saudi Arabia after a land dispute.
Another minor king, Saud bin Saif al-Nasr, also disappeared after calling for reforms in the kingdom and publicly advocating a letter from an anonymous Saudi king, which was widespread in 2015 and called for regime change. He had been persuaded to take a private plane to Italy, which he believed was a business trip but has not heard of it since then, the BBC reported.
In an interview with Russian news website Sputnik last year, Prince Turki al Faisal, a high-ranking king in charge of the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies, dismissed the cases of the so-called princes and said that Interpol Messages submitted for their arrests
"We do not like to publish these things because we think they are our domestic business," he said. "Of course, there were people who worked to bring them back. You are here; they have not disappeared They see their families. "
The government of Morocco recently announced that it has handed Prince Turki bin Bandar to Saudi Arabia to comply with an interpol warrant.
However, Interpol said in a statement that it had not issued any notice to him or to Prince Saud and Sultan.
Like Khashoggi, who lived in Virginia, many dissident exiles flee as far as possible from the Middle East, fearing that Saudi Arabia's allies could extradite them.
In an interview with the Washington Post, Khashoggi several months before his death discussed the case of Loujain al-Hathloul, a Saudi women's rights activist who was stopped in March during her car trip in Abu Dhabi, where she had studied Arabia and said, on social media adjust. Several months later, she was arrested, detained, and branded a traitor in the state media.
When Hathloul was approached in Abu Dhabi, her husband Fahad Albutairi, a stand-up comedian, was abducted from his hotel room in Jordan and brought back to Saudi Arabia with knowledge of the incident, according to information provided by two people.
"It's intimidation," Khashoggi said. "Teach these people a lesson that scares people."