Alwaght- Media talk about the disappearance of the highly influential Saudi royal advisor Saud al-Qahtani, as the fingers of blame are pointed at the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
In authoritarian regimes like the Saudi monarchy the figures close to the power holders usually have information that sometimes can bring trouble to the officials. Since bin Salman rose to power nearly five years ago, one of his closest friends and confidantes has been al-Qahtani.
On August 28, Ayad al-Baghdadi, a Palestinian critic of the Saudi regime living in Oslo, tweeted that he received information that al-Qahtani was ordered poisoned and killed by Prince Mohammed. Al-Baghdadi’s revelations over the past year have all come true.
Is al-Qahtani’s disappearance related to his position among the royal family? If yes, what information did he have the revelation of which could endanger the crown prince’s position?
Who is Saudi al-Qahtani?
Saud bin Abdullah bin Salem bin Mohammed Qassim al-Wahhabi al-Qahtani was born on July 7, 1978, in Riyadh. He received his BA degree in criminal law from King Saud University and continued for his MA degree in the same major in Naif Arab University for Security Sciences. He also passed an officer course in the King Faisal Air Academy, where he later became an instructor0.
Since 2003, al-Qahtani worked as the legal advisor to the late King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz. He was also a senior media analyst in the royal family in 2008. In 2017, he was appointed as the chief of Saudi Federation for Cyber Security and Programming. A year later, he was appointed as the senior supervisor of the High Committee of the Fighting Sports Union.
He was very active on Twitter, leading a campaign to counter the opposition on social media. His online presence was considerable when the crisis between Saudi Arabia and Qatar erupted in 2017. Al-Qahtani has so far posted over 9200 Twitter messages and attracted 1.3 million followers on social media. His dismissal from his royal post last year following the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi brought an end to his online and media activity, however.
Al-Qahtani, a clue to Khashoggi killing’s mystery
The killing of the renowned Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi last year at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul is the most significant issue that can be linked to al-Qahtani’s disappearance. Reports suggest that he witnessed the assassination live on Skype. Roughly after disclosure of the killing, al-Qahtani took a center stage in the blaming attention.
He was sacked from his post as royal advisor shortly after charges that he had a hand in the murder of the outspoken critic of the crown prince. The US officials have said that he played a key role in the killing and despite the fact that he did not show up publicly over the past months, he maintained his contacts with Prince Mohammed.
On November 15, 2018, when the Saudi attorney general announced that al-Qahtani was under investigation and travel ban, the Trump administration, already under heavy pressure to pursue the murder case seriously, announced sanctions on al-Qahtani, calling him “part of the planning and execution of the operation” that led to Khashoggi's murder. The US administration’s efforts to divert the attention to al-Qahtani came while the CIA revealed that bin Salman personally ordered the assassination.
Washington’s push to clear Prince Mohammed came with a plan to make al-Qahtani the main convict. In mid-April, The Guardian reported that the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during a meeting with bin Salman demanded the crown prince to fully cut relations with al-Qahtani. Further reports suggest that Jared Kushner, Trump’s advisor and son-in-law, has pressed the Saudi de facto ruler to make a bulwark of al-Qahtani and hand him over to open criminal court.
Reports add that in addition to the Khashoggi’s assassination case, al-Qahtani had a role in the torture of rights activists in prison and also quelling their protests in the streets. According to rights groups, al-Qahtani played a key role in helping Prince Mohammed detain his royal rivals and rich businessmen in Carlton-Ritz hotel in the capital Riyadh. Furthermore, people with knowledge about the last year detention of several women rights activists have noted that he personally supervised the torture of women activists. The case can be costly to bin Salman who has been struggling to give out to the world an image of him as a patron to the women’s rights.
Two scenarios are now up for debate regarding al-Qahtani: First, al-Baghdadi’s information is true and al-Qahtani was murdered by direct order from bin Salman who wants to get rid of the sole witness who can reveal the secret behind Khashoggi murder in the future and bring damage to the crown prince’s position. The second scenario is that bin Salman and al-Qahtani himself have planned to hide him to steer clear of the largely show trial whose results will be closely followed by the US Congress, the Turkish government, international organizations, and global public. For now, the best choice appears to be the disappearance of al-Qahtani and spread of his death rumor, a plan helping him out of the center of focus as the clue to Khashoggi’s killing mystery and torture of the home critics of bin Salman.