London: The US’ Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has warned Norway that a prominent Arab activist who is living in the country under asylum protection is facing a potential threat from Saudi Arabia, the media reported on Tuesday.
Pro-democracy activist Iyad el-Baghdadi is a vocal critic of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and is a Palestinian-born writer who is active on Twitter. He gained prominence during the Arab spring when he began tweeting about the Egyptian uprising.
His English translations of Arabic tweets and sarcastic takedowns of autocratic leaders gained him tens of thousands of Twitter followers. He was granted political asylum in Norway in 2015, after his arrest and expulsion from the United Arab Emirates, which forced him to leave without any formal charges or trial.
Since then, the Saudi Crown Prince has been a frequent subject of criticism for the writer.
The revelation comes less than a year after the murder of Saudi journalist and columnist for the Washington Post Jamal Khashoggi, who was killed inside the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul in October 2018.
The murder caused international outrage and provoked condemnation of the 33-year-old crown prince who is said to be behind the killing.
According to the Guardian, El-Baghdadi was alerted to the threat on April 25 , when Norwegian authorities arrived at his doorstep, took him to a secure location and warned him he was in possible danger from an unspecified threat emanating from the kingdom.
The activist was told the threat had been passed on to Norwegian authorities by a foreign intelligence agency, which the Guardian said was the CIA.
“The way I understood it was, the Saudis have a crosshairs on me, but there is no idea of what they are going to do,” El-Baghdadi told the daily over the phone.
“They assured me that they are taking it very seriously. They came prepared,” he said, noting that authorities had arrived with two squads: one to whisk him away and another to ensure they were not being followed.
Last year, after the murder of Khashoggi, El-Baghdadi warned on Twitter that Prince Mohammed would become more dangerous if he was not held to account by western allies.
“If they get away with kidnapping the next step will be assassinations in your capitals, and I’m not joking even a little bit,” El-Baghdadi had tweeted.
He said the apparent threat meant he was effective: “If they don’t want to kill me than I am not doing my job.”
The move by the CIA to alert Norwegian counterparts does not necessarily mean El-Baghdadi is in imminent and definite danger, the report said.
The CIA declined to comment on the issue and so did the Norwegian police security service.