Saudi Stray Dogs in the UK

Summary: Leading Saudi dissident attacked in London. Evidence of orchestration by the Saudis and a delayed response by Met police allows suspects to escape and prompts corruption allegations.

Ghanem Al Masarir Al Dowsari is an online Saudi political satirist who attracts millions of views daily on his Twitter and YouTube channels, mainly from inside Saudi Arabia. His success has made him one of the foremost Saudi dissidents and he is currently seeking political asylum in the UK. On Friday 31 August he was attacked by two Saudi men on the Brompton Road, SW1. The attack happened outside the main entrance of Harrods at about 6pm, in broad daylight, and was witnessed by many people – see videos here and here.

During the fight the two attackers – both Saudis – can be heard shouting about MBS and Saudi Arabia and one of them looks a lot like a security officer, wearing a grey suit with a wired earpiece and a suspicious-looking bulge in his back pocket. Afterwards they ran off but not before one of them had his shirt ripped off.

At 615pm Mr. Al Masarir’s friend Alan Bender, who can be seen in the videos trying to break-up the fight, called the police and was told they would attend in 16 minutes. A few minutes later the police called back asking for the identity of the victim and more information about the attackers. Mr Bender told the police the attackers were Saudis and that the victim was a Saudi human rights activist named Ghanem Al Masarir.

The police never showed up.

Several hours and phone calls later Mr. Bender and Mr. Al Masarir finally made their way to Notting Hill police station in the ambulance where they found UK police continued to obfuscate until after 11pm when the pair finally managed to give their statements to an officer.

The next day two Saudis came forward on social media boasting that they were the assailants and that they had skipped the country – given the long delay in taking the victims’ statements this would easily have been possible. One phoned Mr. Al Masarir issuing more threats and claiming to have MBS’s backing. A second man claiming to be the other attacker was celebrated in Saudi-controlled media. Their identities have not been confirmed.

“Not one single police officer or police car showed up to an assault that took place right in front of one of London’s landmarks, with people running left and right, shouting and screaming” said Mr. Bender. “We were attacked and one of the assailants had his shirt ripped off his back. Isn’t that noticeable?”

“The British police made it a point to talk us out of filing a report in a diplomatic way. They tried to ignore our calls and didn’t show up at all even though this is a human rights activist who has been threatened and reported threats against his life from the Saudis to the police three times.”

“That lack of response raises a lot of red flags. The police deliberately didn’t show up. They didn’t want this to be handled the right away. They wanted to give them that window and they fled. Those two guys needed three hours to leave the UK. The police gave them 5.5 hours before any report was filed”.

If true, this would not be the first time Metropolitan police officers have been corrupted by the Saudis in order to target dissidents and defectors living abroad. Nor is this the first time a Saudi dissident seeking sanctuary has been attacked in the UK. At least three royal family defectors have been returned to the kingdom from other European countries in recent years along with members of their entourage, including US citizens.

There are some other suspicious events surrounding the attack.

While Mr Bender was standing outside the ambulance in which Mr Al Masarir was having medical treatment for injuries to his eye and mouth he was approached by a Saudi man who is also now thought to be working for the Saudi government. The man offered Mr Bender money to keep quiet about the incident and asked him not to testify to the UK authorities. He told him the two aggressors were leaving London and said that the police were not going to show up.

A Saudi man was prosecuted for witness intimidation following a separate assault on Mr Al Masarir several years ago.

Arab Digest has spoken exclusively to a London-based limousine driver who works for the Saudi royal family who said that on the 25th August he was offered a cash reward in exchange for information about Mr. Al Masarir’s whereabouts. Specifically the Saudis wanted to know his home address, the location of his gym and information about other places he frequents such as coffee-shops and restaurants. The man reported the incident to the police but they took no action on the basis that no crime had been committed.

Since the attack many senior Saudi officials have come forward in praise and threatening more. The following day the hashtag “Beat the dog Ghanem Al Masarir” trended on Saudi Twitter.

Despite the obvious threat to Mr Al Masarir should he return to his homeland, where earlier this month the Attorney General called for the death penalty against the famous Sheikh Salman al-‘Awdah, the UK government continues to argue it is perfectly safe for him to return there. His case is reminiscent of Mohammed Al Massari’s, another leading Saudi dissident who got in the way of the UK’s commercial and political relations with Riyadh. In 1996 the Home Office ordered he be deported to the Caribbean nation of Dominica but this was blocked by a judge on the basis that the government had not established that this would be a safe destination for him. In 2004 Dr Massari had to enter a witness protection programme after he was found to be under surveillance by a British police officer who had been corrupted by an official at the Saudi embassy.

The implications of the attack on Mr Al Masarir were discussed at Chatham House and commented on by Prof Madawi Al Rasheed. Mr Al Masarir also gave an interview on Al Jazeera. At the Chatham House event a Security Researcher at King’s College London presented a new paper about Saudi-UK security relations which found little evidence, based on publicly available information, that the UK exerts either influence or leverage over Saudi Arabia.

“In fact, there is greater evidence that Saudi Arabia exerts influence over the UK. There is a contradiction between the UK presenting itself as a progressive, liberal country and defender of the international rules-based order, while at the same time providing diplomatic cover for a regime, which, based on this analysis, is undermining that rules-based order. The UK appears to be incurring reputational costs as a result of its relationship with Saudi Arabia, while the economic benefits to the UK are questionable.”

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