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From blackmailing princes to murdering journalists: how Saudi Arabia’s spy network has expanded under Mohammed bin Salman

From blackmailing princes to murdering journalists: how Saudi Arabia’s spy network has expanded under Mohammed bin SalmanInside the Georgian mansion in Mayfair that houses Saudi Arabia’s embassy in London, two offices of Saudi intelligence operatives are busy at work.  The first office belongs to the General Intelligence Presidency, Saudi Arabia’s foreign intelligence agency. Its staff are engaged in the “normal” work of spies, meeting with MI6 to discuss Britain and Saudi Arabia’s shared fight against al-Qaeda or to swap secrets on Iran.  The second office has a darker purpose. There the staff of the Mabahith, Saudi Arabia’s secret police, are tracking people of interest inside the UK.  Its operatives are watching obvious targets like Saudi dissidents who have gone into exile in Britain, or London-based Islamists whose ideology is seen as a threat to Saudi Arabia’s absolute monarchy. But they are also keeping tabs on Arab businessmen and the decadent lives of Gulf royals living the UK. The Mabahith’s spies are especially interested in compromising material they can use as blackmail to further Riyadh’s interests.       “These guys gather the dirt and they hold it until directed,” said a former Saudi embassy employee, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “They want to know who is sleeping with who, who is drinking and doing drugs, who is spending money they don’t have.”  Saudi spies and secret police work out of the kingdom's embassy in London Credit: Photo by Jack Taylor/Getty Images The set-up in the London embassy is replicated at Saudi diplomatic posts around the world, forming a vast web of spies watching the kingdom’s enemies and surveilling its own people.  While this apparatus has existed for years, it has become more aggressive and more violent under Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince, who controls the Saudi security services.  His ambition to silence critics abroad and stomp out political rivals at home has depended on a new ferocity in the intelligence agencies. The murder of Jamal Khashoggi is just the most extreme example.   “For many decades Saudi Arabia had a system in which the king sought to develop a policy consensus within the royal family, the clerical establishment, and the entrepreneur elite,” said Bruce Riedel, a former CIA officer who now heads the Intelligence Project at the Brookings Institute.  “That has changed profoundly in the last few years. Instead of a consensual system they have moved to a very autocratic system, which relies much more on the intelligence services hounding out dissent at home and abroad.”  Maher Mutreb, a Saudi intelligence officer, was allegedly part of the squad that killed Mr Khashoggi Credit: Sabah via AP  Mr Khashoggi was no stranger to the craft of the secret police or how its methods changed over time. In the mid-2000s he worked at the Saudi embassy in London as an advisor to the ambassador, Prince Turki bin Faisal. The prince was Saudi Arabia’s spy chief before moving to the UK.   One of Mr Khashoggi’s embassy colleagues was Maher Mutreb, a Saudi intelligence officer stationed in London. Mr Mutreb is now under arrest in Saudi Arabia as part of the 15-man squad accused of Mr Khashoggi’s murder.    In his Washington Post column, Mr Khashoggi noted the aggression of Saud al-Qahtani, a senior aide to Crown Prince Mohammed who was sacked over the weekend amid the fallout out of the killing. The prince’s aide made no secret of his hatred for dissidents and once asked his 1.35 million Twitter followers to give him names for a blacklist. Mr Khashoggi pointed to the tweet as an example of how unrestrained Saudi repression had become in the last two years. “Writers like me, whose criticism is offered respectfully, seem to be considered more dangerous than the more strident Saudi opposition based in London.”  Saudi Arabia’s spies have always focused on the UK, which has given safe harbour to many Saudi dissidents as well as Islamists and anti-monarchists from across the Middle East.  One of their targets has been Sa’ad al-Faqih, the leader of Movement for Islamic Reform in Arabia, a UK-based Saudi opposition group that campaigns to replace with the royal family with an Islamic government. Saad al-Faqih, a Saudi dissident based in London, has been a target for Saudi intelligence Credit: AP Photo/Richard Lewis Dr Faqih was attacked at his home in Willesden Green, northwest London, in June 2003 by two men who he said claimed to be plumbers. They tried to spray chemicals in his face and then attacked him with a spanner but he was able to fight them off.  He believes the two white men were British gangsters hired by Saudi Arabia to kidnap him, a claim that the kingdom has always denied.   Dr Faqih has not faced any more physical attacks since 2003. But he has felt a heightened threat since Crown Prince Mohammed began to gather power three years ago and he started taking new security precautions. “We feel extra danger because we know that this boy is reckless and impulsive,” he said.  Saudi dissidents were rattled by an incident in August this year on the pavement outside Harrods in central London. Ghanem al-Masarir, a popular Saudi political satirist who often mocks Crown Prince Mohammed, was confronted and attacked by two Saudi men.  يا شين المهايط فـ الخلا ما يحمّس يبربر على اسياده .. ولا احدٍ درا به ٰ سلامي على يـدٍ عطته ( المخمّس ) هذي اصغر ردود السعودي والاجابه��������#جلد_الكلب_غانم_الدوسري@GhanemAlmasarirpic.twitter.com/axejGsqNAt— بيع قصايد جزله .. (@Be3_600) September 9, 2018 “They were shouting about the king and Mohammed bin Salman and they said: ‘how dare you insult al-Saud?’” Mr Dosari said. He is convinced that the men were put up to the attack by Saudi intelligence.  “I don’t think they were trying to kill me or kidnap me but they wanted to insult me and to send a message that I was not safe where I was,” he said. Video footage of the attack was widely shared by pro-Saudi Twitter accounts under a hashtag celebrating the attack. The Saudi embassy in London did not respond to multiple requests for comment for this story. Saudi Arabia insists that Mr Khashoggi's death was the result of "a rogue operation" which was not ordered by the government.   Before the killing in Istanbul made global headlines, the starkest example of the Saudi intelligence's new aggression was an apparent campaign to kidnap rebel princes in Europe and bring them back to Saudi Arabia.  According to the BBC, three princes who had fallen out with the royal family have been captured since 2015. One, Prince Sultan bin Turki, a grandson of King Abdulaziz, accepted a flight on a Saudi government private jet from Paris to Cairo in January 2016.     The prince went to sleep on the flight and when he awoke he realised the jet was in fact heading Saudi Arabia. He was dragged off the plane by Saudi agents and is believed to be under house arrest to this day.  Saudi dissidents joke darkly that Mr Khashoggi’s death probably means they are safer now than they have been in years because Riyadh will be unwilling to risk another international scandal. But none believe the danger has fully passed.  Over the weekend, King Salman ordered his ministers to prepare reforms of the Saudi intelligence services to prevent another incident like Mr Khashoggi’s death. No one should expect sweeping changes: the head of the reform committee is none other Crown Prince Mohammed himself. 



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A Florida Mother Has Been Charged With Murdering Her Missing Two-Year-Old Son

A Florida Mother Has Been Charged With Murdering Her Missing Two-Year-Old SonThe mother had told police her two-year-old went missing after they hitchhiked home



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German court convicts migrant of murdering ex-girlfriend

German court convicts migrant of murdering ex-girlfriendBERLIN (AP) — A migrant was convicted Monday of murdering his 15-year-old German ex-girlfriend and sentenced to 8.5 years in prison, the German news agency dpa reported.



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Roy Oliver: White police officer found guilty of murdering unarmed black teenager Jordan Edwards

Roy Oliver: White police officer found guilty of murdering unarmed black teenager Jordan EdwardsA white police officer has been jailed for 15 years for murdering an unarmed, black 15-year-old boy in Dallas, Texas. The verdict represents what is an extremely rare phenomenon – a murder conviction for a shooting involving on-duty police officer. Roy Oliver was fired from his job with the Balch Springs Police Department in the days after the high-profile 2017 shooting of Jordan Edwards.



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Texas jury finds ex-police officer guilty of murdering black teen

Texas jury finds ex-police officer guilty of murdering black teenA Texas jury on Tuesday found a white former policeman guilty of murder for fatally shooting a black teenager in a car moving away from him in a 2017 case in a Dallas suburb that fueled a national debate over possible racial bias in U.S. policing. The police officer, Roy Oliver, 38, was fired by the Balch Springs Police Department for violating department policy a few days after he fatally shot Jordan Edwards, 15, a standout high school student and athlete. Oliver, along with another officer, had responded to reports of underage drinking at a house party in the predominantly black and Hispanic city of Balch Springs, about 15 miles (25 km) southeast of Dallas.



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Texas jury finds ex-police officer guilty of murdering black teen

Texas jury finds ex-police officer guilty of murdering black teenThe police officer, Roy Oliver, 38, was fired by the Balch Springs Police Department for violating department policy a few days after he fatally shot Jordan Edwards, 15, a standout high school student and athlete. Oliver, along with another officer, had responded to reports of underage drinking at a house party in the predominantly black and Hispanic city of Balch Springs, about 15 miles (25 km) southeast of Dallas. First Assistant District Attorney Michael Snipes said Oliver was a trigger-happy policeman who sent the teenager to an early grave.



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Former Texas Cop Found Guilty of Murdering an Unarmed Black Teenager

Former Texas Cop Found Guilty of Murdering an Unarmed Black TeenagerIt's a rare guilty verdict in a police shooting case



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Colorado prosecutors set to charge man for murdering family

Colorado prosecutors set to charge man for murdering familyColorado prosecutors said they plan to formally file murder charges on Monday against a man accused of killing his pregnant wife and their two young daughters, days after he told police they went missing and pleaded on TV for their safe return. Christopher Watts, 33, has been held without bond in the Weld County jail since his arrest last week for the murders of his pregnant wife Shanann Watts, 34 and two daughters, Celeste, 3, and Bella, 4. Weld County District Attorney Michael Rourke will formally file charges against Watts on Monday and seek the release of an arrest affidavit, which has been under seal, that lays out details of the crime, his spokeswoman Krista Henery said in a telephone interview.



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Man accused of murdering and eating his ex-girlfriend ruled mentally fit to stand trial

Man accused of murdering and eating his ex-girlfriend ruled mentally fit to stand trialA man accused of killing his former girlfriend and eating parts of her body has been deemed mentally fit to stand trial by a state psychiatrist. Joseph Oberhansley has been in prison in September 2014, when his ex-girlfriend Tammy Jo Blanton was found dead in her home in Jeffersonville, in the US state of Indiana. Mr Oberhansley is accused of breaking into Ms Blanton’s house, raping her, stabbing her to death, then sawing her head and body open to eat her brain, heart and lungs.



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French couple guilty of murdering au-pair in London

French couple guilty of murdering au-pair in LondonA French couple was on Thursday found guilty of murdering their 21-year-old au-pair and then burning her body on a bonfire in their London garden in September last year. Sabrina Kouider, 35, broke into tears after she and partner Ouissem Medouni, 40, were found guilty by a jury at London’s Old Bailey court of murdering French live-in nanny Sophie Lionnet. “Only Kouider and Medouni know exactly how they killed Sophie but the prosecution was able to prove that she died as a result of purposeful and sustained violence, and not by accident,” said state prosecutor Aisling Hosein.



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