Exclusive: Saudi dissident set to come off U.N. al Qaeda blacklist
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - A U.N. Security Council committee is set to remove Saudi dissident Saad al-Faqih from the United Nations' al Qaeda sanctions list this weekend if no council member demands that the 15-nation body intervene, U.N. diplomats said on Saturday.
The London-based Faqih was added to the U.N. al Qaeda sanctions list in December 2004, days after the U.S. Treasury Department hit him with U.S. sanctions for suspected links to the late Osama bin Laden's militant network, which was responsible for the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.
"Unless someone calls for the Security Council to take up the issue, Saad al-Faqih will be de-listed tomorrow at 5:30 p.m (2130 GMT)," a council diplomat told Reuters on condition of anonymity. "So far no one has called for the council to act."
Other diplomats confirmed his remarks about Faqih, formerly a professor of medicine at a Saudi university. All said it remained theoretically possible for the United States or another council member opposed to Faqih's de-listing to call for Security Council intervention at the last minute.
But even if the council took up the issue, it was not immediately clear Faqih's U.N. delisting would be stopped, though it would undoubtedly be delayed past Sunday.
There are currently 252 individuals and 69 entities or groups on the United Nations al Qaeda sanctions list, including Faqih. All individuals on the list are subject to asset freezes and an international travel ban.
Britain, Faqih's current host, is one of four council members that support the recommendation of the al Qaeda sanctions committee ombudsman, Kimberly Prost of Canada, that Faqih be taken off the blacklist, despite strong objections from Riyadh, diplomats said on condition of anonymity.
The other three countries supporting Prost's recommendation, the envoys said, are Germany, South Africa and Guatemala.
"The Saudis were pushing really hard against the idea of de-listing al-Faqih," one diplomat told Reuters. "I don't think the decision in London (to support de-listing) was an easy one."
A spokesman for the British mission to the United Nations declined to comment because he said the committee's proceedings are confidential.
CRITIC OF SAUDI RULERS
The move to drop Faqih from the U.N. blacklist highlights the expanded powers of the sanctions committee's ombudsman, who handles complaints by individuals who say they should not be on the list. The al Qaeda sanctions list has been criticized by human rights advocates, who say it has proven virtually impossible to be removed from it.
Last year, the Security Council expanded the powers of the ombudsman, giving the office the authority to recommend removal of people from the U.N. blacklist. Council members must agree unanimously to override the recommendation or call for the council to take up the issue.
When the U.S. Treasury Department blacklisted Faqih in 2004, it said he has "maintained associations with the al Qaeda network since the mid-1990s, including an individual associated with the 1998 East Africa embassy bombings."
Council diplomats said Washington was among the 11 council members that opposed taking Faqih off the U.N. blacklist.
The exiled dissident Faqih heads the Movement for Islamic Reform in Arabia (MIRA) and has insisted he and his group are committed to peace. He is a strong opponent of the leadership of Saudi Arabia.
Earlier this year, he criticized the Riyadh government in an editorial in Britain's Guardian newspaper and predicted the Arab Spring uprising which began last year in the Middle East and North Africa would reach Saudi Arabia.
"It is only a matter of time before the revolutions that have swept the Arab world reach the Saudi kingdom," he wrote.
"Most of the factors that led to the Arab uprisings are present in Arabia," Faqih said. "The Saudi regime holds tens of thousands of political prisoners, most without charge. The scale of corruption is staggering: in the most recent budget alone, $100 billion is unaccounted for."
A spokesman for the Saudi U.N. mission was not immediately available for comment. Faqih also declined to comment when he was reached by Reuters in London.
(Additional reporting by William Maclean in London; editing by Todd Eastham)
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