Arab activist says CIA notified Norway of threat against him
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — A Palestinian-born activist living in Norway was reportedly whisked away to a secure location after the CIA informed Norwegian officials of an unspecified threat against him, according to reports Tuesday.
Iyad el-Baghdadi, who is outspoken on Twitter and was researching several issues related to Saudi Arabia, was quoted by Norway’s news agency NTB as saying Norwegian officials came to his home on April 25 and told him he may be in danger before taking him to a safe place.
He was quoted as saying it is unclear what the threat was, but that “something came on the radar of the CIA.” He said Norwegian security agency PST told him the threat is not imminent.
The Guardian, which first reported the incident, said the CIA had warned Norway that el-Baghdadi faced a potential threat from Saudi Arabia. It quoted el-Baghdadi as saying that after Norwegian authorities took him to a secure location, they warned him he was in possible danger from an unspecified threat emanating from the kingdom.
The CIA declined to comment when reached by The Associated Press, referring any questions to authorities in Norway. El-Baghdadi did not immediately respond to an AP request for comment. The Saudi Embassy in Washington could not be immediately reached for comment.
El-Baghdadi rose to prominence during Arab Spring protests in 2011, using sharp analysis and a steady stream of tweets to amass more than 124,000 followers on Twitter. He was granted political asylum in Norway after his online activism prompted his expulsion without charge from the United Arab Emirates, where he was a resident.
Among the many Arab rulers he’s fiercely criticized on Twitter is Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, whose aides were behind a plot that led to the assassination of Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi inside the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul last year. Khashoggi wrote columns critical of the crown prince for The Washington Post and was a friend of el-Baghdadi.
On Twitter, el-Baghdadi also acknowledged there was a threat to his safety.
“Something crazy - concerning my personal safety - happened two weeks ago which I haven’t been at liberty to speak about.... The last two weeks have been very stressful, but I hope I’ve managed well given the pressure,” he wrote in a tweet on Tuesday.
The Kawaakibi Foundation, an activist platform which el-Baghdadi is president and co-founder of, issued a statement on a fundraising site saying that the threat posed to him “was linked to the government of Saudi Arabia.”
The statement added that the group is working on research related to several issues, including a breach of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ private communication, as well as research on Saudi propaganda efforts on Twitter.
“We may not be the highest profile or best-known, but we’re sure as heck effective if the Saudi state is after us,” the statement said.
In his comments to the Norwegian news agency, el-Baghdadi said the threat “may be related to six or seven different things I have done lately, including investigating the extortion of Amazon entrepreneur Jeff Bezos.”
A cybersecurity expert hired by Bezos, who owns The Washington Post where Khashoggi was a contributing columnist, has alleged that his investigators have concluded with high confidence that the Saudis had access to Bezos’ phone, and gained private information.
Bezos had previously accused The National Enquirer magazine in the U.S. of trying to blackmail him by threatening to publish intimate details and text messages showing an extramarital affair he was having.
Saudi Arabia has rejected allegations that it was involved in the dispute between Bezos and the parent company of The National Enquirer.
Associated Press writer Jan Olsen in Copenhagen, Denmark, contributed to this report.