Saudi citizen’s kidnapping adds new chapter to Lebanon’s chronicle of crime and impunity
Despite Mashari Al-Mutairi’s record-fast rescue, incident revives memories of abductions, hijackings, and armed robberies
Saudi Arabia is committed to having Lebanon back in the Arab fold, says Saudi researcher Salman Al-Ansari
Updated 31 May 2023
JEDDAH: Despite the record-fast rescue by Lebanese security services on Tuesday of a kidnapped Saudi citizen, the incident comes as yet another reminder of the many heists, abductions and hijackings that have plagued the Arab country since the 1970s.
Mashari Al-Mutairi, an employee of Saudi Arabia’s Saudia airlines who lived in the Beirut suburb of Aramoun, was abducted at about 3 a.m. on Sunday. The Lebanese Army’s intelligence directorate found and freed him after a security operation on the border with Syria.
He was received at the Saudi Embassy in Beirut by Ambassador Walid Bukhari, who said in a statement: “The released Saudi citizen is in good health, and we thank the army and internal security forces. The security efforts confirm the Lebanese authorities’ keenness to secure tourism security.”
News of Al-Mutairi’s abduction will have come as little surprise to millions of Lebanese who have endured decades of similar disappearances, hostage situations and armed robberies — crimes that are again on the rise as the nation grapples with chronic economic woes.
In the first 10 months of 2021, the number of car thefts rose by 212 percent, robberies by 266 percent and murders by 101 percent compared to the same period of 2019, according to figures from International Information, an independent consultancy based in Beirut.
Ever since the 1975-90 civil war, Lebanon has been a transit, source and destination country for arms trafficking. These same networks are today used to move stolen goods, control the black market and facilitate the burgeoning drugs trade — many of them controlled by the armed Shiite group Hezbollah, which continues to dominate Lebanese public life.
“Any country that has a non-state actor within it is considered a ‘failed state,’” Salman Al-Ansari, a Saudi political researcher, told Arab News. “Lebanon has never been this dominated by a militia that works for an outside power.
“The crime, drug smuggling, economic collapse, currency decline are only symptoms of the actual root problem, which is the lack of national sovereignty. There is no point in rectifying the symptoms as long as the actual root problem exists. It’s like hoping to treat a serious illness with a painkiller.
“Lebanon should change course and realize that their future is very dark if they allow a non-state actor to dictate its trajectory.”
Events in Lebanon today have echoes of the bad old days of the 1980s, when kidnappings, torture, murder and drug trafficking reached endemic proportions against the backdrop of the civil war, which devastated the country.
Back then, Westerners were common targets. In 1982, pro-Iran extremists kidnapped Davis S. Dodge, then president of American University in Beirut, from the university campus. He was flown to a prison near Tehran and held until his release a year later.
In 1984, Dodge’s successor as president of the AUB, Dr. Malcolm Kerr, was shot dead by two gunmen outside his office. The Islamic Jihad Organization claimed responsibility for the killing, citing the US military presence in Lebanon as its motive.
The same year, William Francis Buckley, a CIA operative working at the US Embassy in Beirut, was kidnapped by Hezbollah and later murdered. One of the reasons for his abduction was thought to be the upcoming trial of 17 Iran-backed militants in Kuwait.
Several times during this period, whole planeloads of people were taken hostage. In 1984, a Kuwait Airways flight from Kuwait City to Karachi, Pakistan, was hijacked by four Lebanese and diverted to Tehran.
Due to unmet demands, the hijackers shot and killed American passengers Charles Hegna and William Stanford, both of whom were officials from the US Agency for International Development, before dumping their bodies on the tarmac.
Less than a year later, on June 14, 1985, TWA Flight 847 was hijacked soon after taking off from Athens. For three days, the plane went to and from Algiers and Beirut. US Navy diver Robert Stethem was murdered aboard the flight.
Dozens of passengers were held hostage over the next two weeks until they were finally released by their captors after some of their demands were met. The hijackers had demanded the release of 700 Shiite Muslims from Israeli custody.
Western analysts accused Hezbollah of hijacking the plane, a claim the group rejected.
In 1987, British humanitarian and hostage negotiator Terry Waite traveled to Beirut to negotiate with the IJO, which had taken several hostages. However, he was himself abducted by the group and remained in captivity for 1,763 days — the first four years of which he spent in solitary confinement.
A year later, Col. William Higgins, a US marine serving with the UN forces in South Lebanon, was kidnapped and murdered by a Hezbollah-aligned splinter group of the Al-Amal movement, “Believers Resistance.”
Although Lebanon is no longer in the grip of outright civil war, the financial crisis which began in 2019, combined with the political class’s failure to establish a new government, have created an environment of growing lawlessness and desperation.
Indeed, there are indications that the kidnapping of Al-Mutairi could have been orchestrated by a criminal organization with a hand in the production and trade of the amphetamine Captagon, which blights the entire region.
Lebanese news station MTV reported in recent days that a drug dealer known as Abu Salle, who is described as one of the region’s most prominent cartel bosses, was behind Al-Mutairi’s kidnapping.
The Lebanese Army raid of a Captagon factory in connection with the kidnapping lends weight to this theory.
Although Lebanese officials were quick to condemn the kidnapping, there are concerns the incident could hamper efforts to normalize relations between Saudi Arabia and Lebanon, which have long been strained by the influence of Hezbollah.
However, Al-Ansari is confident the kidnapping will not obstruct progress on normalization.
“This could be considered a small obstacle in the way, but at the end of the day, Saudi Arabia is committed to having Lebanon back to the Arab fold in a way that it can have its own sovereignty away from Iranian hegemony,” he said.
In March, Saudi Arabia and Iran restored diplomatic relations under a Chinese-mediated deal. How this new arrangement will impact the activities of Iran’s proxy forces throughout the region, however, remains ill-defined.
“It is still unclear what the Chinese mediation between Saudi Arabia and Iran will result in with regard to the Lebanese file,” Al-Ansari said. “It will de-escalate the tension, but it will not solve the problem overnight.”
Although Lebanon is a long way from reaching stability, Al-Ansari believes Saudi Arabia “will work hard with the highest level of government in Lebanon to find a way to have political and economic reforms, combat corruption and drug smuggling, and have the right kind of governance.”
International observers warned of a potential power vacuum after long-time president Michel Aoun left power in October. To this day, Lebanon’s parliament has yet to elect a new president, prolonging the nation’s political paralysis.
“The Saudi ambassador to Beirut has been vocal and supportive in finding a solution to the power vacuum and pushing for reforms and appointing a government, because at the end of the day, Saudi Arabia can’t provide anything if there is no actual solidified government in Beirut,” Al-Ansari said.
“Saudi Arabia doesn’t want anything from Lebanon except for it to be politically stable and prosperous. It will take a long time to accomplish these goals, but at the end of the day, it’s up to the Lebanese to decide their future, and the Saudis will be helping them with whatever they can.”
Sudan crisis sparks EU fears of ‘spillover’ to other nations
The risk of having an arc of instability between the Sahel and the Red Sea is serious, says Annette Weber
Updated 30 May 2023
RIYADH: The EU envoy to the Horn of Africa has hailed Saudi-US efforts to end the violence in Sudan but warned that the ongoing fighting continues to threaten regional stability.
In an interview with Arab News on Monday Annette Weber, the EU Special Representative, said that the risk of a “spillover” of violence was clear.
Weber arrived in Riyadh on Saturday to discuss the Sudan crisis with officials from the Foreign Ministry and representatives of the Gulf Cooperation Council.
“The focus was on Sudan and the current engagement of Saudi Arabia and the US in Jeddah with the two generals,” Weber said in reference to preliminary talks between the rival Sudanese Armed Forces and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces.
She said that a solution would not be found without the Saudi and US efforts to get them talking.
“The focus was really on the question, ‘how can we get to a comprehensive agreement?’ A peace agreement. There’s clear support from the EU member states for this engagement and for these negotiations.”
While she acknowledged that gaining a permanent ceasefire might be considered “far-fetched” at this point, she hoped at least for a cessation of hostilities in order to allow aid shipments to Khartoum and beyond.
“We all made it very clear that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the US are doing this first step. The ‘pre-negotiation’ as they call it, for a ceasefire, opening a window for humanitarian (aid),” she said.
However, she warned that the violence could easily spread across the Horn of Africa without a firmer agreement in place.
“We need to contain the conflict in Sudan. I think this is very clear and I think … the faster they can agree in Jeddah to have at least a ceasefire or cessation of hostility, the less likely the spillover is going to be,” she said.
“But the risk of spillover is clear. We’ve seen people crossing ... We’ve seen the risk of the conflict crossing into Chad, into South Sudan.
“We see a lot of refugees crossing into Egypt and into neighboring countries. The region is very volatile. The risk of having an arc of instability between the Sahel and the Red Sea is serious.
“And for us as the EU, of course, it's our neighbor. It's our neighborhood. So to contain the conflict and to end the conflict is imperative.”
A solution would not be found without the Saudi and US efforts to get them talking.
According to the UN, nearly 1.4 million Sudanese have fled their homes since fighting began on April 15. Of those, 330,000 have crossed over to a neighboring country. To this day, Saudi Arabia has helped more 8,200 people from more than 100 nationalities leave Sudan on evacuation flights.
Saudi Arabia and the US urged the warring sides to work toward a ceasefire and welcomed the start of pre-negotiation talks in Jeddah on May 6.
Both sides agreed to a temporary ceasefire on May 20. However, the deal fell apart almost immediately as fighting continued in Khartoum and beyond. Saudi Arabia and the US said both sides had a hand in its breakdown.
The EU representative said that the efforts to support Sudan’s neighboring countries were “ongoing.”
“We are very much engaged in Chad and South Sudan. It’s an ongoing effort. The EU has one of the biggest donors and humanitarian efforts in Sudan now and before the war,” she said. “So we will continue on this. That’s very clear.”
During her visit to the Kingdom, Weber also met the Secretary-General of the Gulf Cooperation Council Jasem Albudaiwi to discuss regional cooperation and security.
“It is necessary for all of us: The EU, Saudi Arabia, UN, and everyone, to cooperate and coordinate the relief efforts and the humanitarian efforts,” she said, adding that the GCC was an “important counterpart” in the region.
“I think we are aligned in the situation in Sudan,” she added.
Saudi Arabia’s KAUST hosts Global Sustainable Development Congress
Event will gather over 1,000 researcher, innovators from leading universities in the region
Updated 30 May 2023
RIYADH: King Abdullah University of Science and Technology is hosting the Times Higher Education Global Sustainable Development Congress, the Saudi Press Agency has reported.
The event, which runs until June 1, gathers more than 1,000 researchers and innovators from leading universities in the region, as well as government agencies in Saudi Arabia.
Tony Chan, KAUST’s president, said that the university’s hosting of the forum aims to establish new partnerships among participants, while urging universities to focus their educational, research, innovative, and awareness initiatives on generating tangible and influential results.
Minister of Investment Khalid Al-Falih is one of the speakers at the event, delivering a speech on “Investment in Transformation” in Saudi Arabia.
Al-Falih said that the conference was an excellent opportunity for reviewing efforts, innovative methods and research expertise in the field of international sustainability, as well as boosting cooperation between the Kingdom and international partners.
Several CEOs of important international companies are also expected to speak at the event.
A panel discussion, “Shaping Global Food Systems,” is also on the agenda, organized by the UN Global Compact network in Saudi Arabia, in collaboration with the Norwegian Embassy.
Saudi deputy minister attends Nigerian president’s inauguration
Updated 30 May 2023
On behalf of King Salman, Deputy Foreign Minister Waleed Elkhereiji recently attended the inauguration of Bola Ahmed Tinubu as president of Nigeria.
The minister conveyed the greetings and congratulations of King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to the Nigerian leader, as well as their wishes for the government and people of the African nation for further progress, growth and prosperity.
Thousands of Nigerians and several heads of government attended Tinubu’s swearing-in ceremony in the nation’s capital, Abuja. He succeeds Muhammadu Buhari as president.
Criminally good: ‘The Black Rose’ wows audiences in Jeddah
Period tale of gangster families in Detroit packed with amazing live-action stunts
Three Saudis among 25-member cast, crew
Updated 30 May 2023
JEDDAH: “The Black Rose” show at City Walk in Jeddah puts audiences up close and personal with the thrilling and action-packed world of organized crime.
From modern classics like “The Godfather” by Mario Puzo to the hit TV series “Peaky Blinders” and “The Sopranos,” Western pop culture has carved out a genre that is fascinated by the sordid and adventurous criminal lifestyle.
“The Black Rose” brings that experience to the stage through an immersive live performance that depicts street wars between gangs and gives audiences a look at the dauntless world of cinematic stunts.
In the production, a fierce conflict erupts between two gangster families in Detroit, resulting in a sequence of events involving gunfights, explosions and fires.
The spectacle takes place over a massive set that includes three buildings, classic cars and a cast wearing detailed costumes that emulate the early to mid-20th century. It has attracted huge crowds of all ages and nationalities eager to witness the enthralling experience.
The show’s Italian director Filippo Scortichini told Arab News that “The Black Rose” was exclusively designed for Saudi Arabia’s National Events Center.
“We want to take the audience to Chicago in the 1930s through the atmosphere created, so we used the original cars of 1930 from Italy and we took the same firearms, as we wanted to reflect the Mafia and what they do at night,” he said.
Three Saudis are among the 25-member cast and crew of stunt performers.
One of them, 23-year-old actor Mohammed Adel, said: “It is my first time performing in such a huge outdoor theater and with international performers. It is such an honor.
“I have learned so many things from this experience. Although we are taking part in the same show, each one of us was keen to deliver their part in their own special way and that taught me a lot.”
Adel said the performers were also introduced to Saudi theater.
“I explained many things about our acting style here in Saudi and we both are very delighted to go through such an experience.”
Adel has been acting since the age of 18 and has mostly performed in Saudi and historical productions.
Amani Al-Zahrany, who saw the production recently, described the visual effects as “thrilling and daring.”
“The Black Rose” runs until June 6 and there are two performances per day, at 8:30 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. Up to 1,200 people per show can be accommodated and screens transmit Arabic translations to the audience.
The City Walk recreational area is the largest under the Jeddah Events Calendar. It has 10 entertainment sub-zones and hosts events suitable for all age groups. To find out more go to saudievents.sa.