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FBI: Saudi Arabia 'almost certainly' helps citizens charged with crimes flee the US

Richard Read, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

SEATTLE -- When traffic slowed his gold Lexus in Portland, Ore., Abdulrahman Sameer Noorah swerved into a center turn lane and accelerated to about 70 mph, according to a county prosecutor, almost triple the speed limit.

Fallon Smart, a 15-year-old high school student, was crossing the street to meet her mother that hot August afternoon in 2016. Noorah -- a college student from Saudi Arabia -- hit and killed her, said Shawn Overstreet, a Multnomah County deputy district attorney. Indicted for manslaughter, the Portland Community College student, then 20, had to surrender his passport and wear a GPS tracking device under house arrest after the Saudi consulate in Los Angeles posted $100,000 bail.

But two weeks before his trial in 2017, Noorah vanished. Retracing his steps and viewing security camera video, police concluded that a black SUV had pulled up near his home. The GMC Yukon XL Denali, which police have not been able to trace, proceeded to a Portland sand-and-gravel yard where a sheriff's deputy found Noorah's severed ankle monitor.

Six days later, U.S. law enforcement officials would learn, Noorah turned up in Saudi Arabia, beyond their reach.

Saudi Arabia has long denied involvement in Noorah's case and others that appear to be extractions, as clandestine removals are called. But in a document declassified and released on Friday, the FBI said that officials of the Persian Gulf nation "almost certainly" help their citizens accused of committing crimes including manslaughter, rape and possession of child pornography, to flee the United States.

"The FBI based this assessment on the key assumption (that) Kingdom of Saudi Arabia officials perceive the embarrassment of Saudi citizens enduring the U.S. judicial process is greater than the embarrassment of the United States learning the KSA surreptitiously removes citizens with legal problems from the United States," the FBI intelligence bulletin said.


The FBI heavily redacted the seven-page document, which the agency was made to declassify under a requirement that U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., inserted in an appropriations bill signed by President Donald Trump Dec. 20. Wyden said in an interview that the findings "make it clear that the Saudis have been lying," adding that, "if these are our friends, who needs enemies?"

Wyden said that as a member of the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee, he saw the classified, complete version of the FBI document months ago and resolved to force the agency to make it public. He said that unless the Trump administration pressures Saudi Arabia to end the practice of extraction, "it's going to happen again and again."

The FBI reached much the same conclusion. Its bulletin said that Saudi Arabian officials are "unlikely to alter their practice of assisting the flight of Saudi citizens in legal trouble from the United States" anytime soon, unless the U.S. government directly addresses the issue with its ally. The two nations do not have an extradition treaty.

A State Department spokesperson had no comment Saturday when asked to respond to calls by Wyden and fellow Oregon Democratic U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley for the agency to act. In an interview Saturday, Merkley criticized the department and Trump for failing to confront Saudi Arabia concerning extractions, and regarding the 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Riyadh's Istanbul consulate.


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