Khashoggi was victim of Saudi internet trolls, friend tells Euronews

Khashoggi was victim of Saudi internet trolls, friend tells Euronews
Copyright Reuters
By Mohammed Shaban
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Saudi dissident and friend of Jamal Khashoggi said he was a victim of Saudi internet "flies".


Omar Abdelaziz, a Saudi dissident activist now living in Canada, was in daily contact with Jamal Khashoggi, the Washington Post columnist who was murdered after entering the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul two weeks ago.

He told Euronews Khashoggi never thought he would be in danger going into the Consulate.

"I have known him for three years," Abdelaziz said, "but I did not agree with him politically because he seemed closer to the official approach. But things changed since Khashoggi left Saudi Arabia in September 2017. We reviewed this relationship and we got in touch almost every day, " he added.

Abdelaziz now lives in Canada. The 27-year-old first came to the country in 2009 as a student at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec but now has permanent residence after he sought political asylum in 2014.

The Saudi activist said Khashoggi was about to travel to Canada after he obtained a visa, but said he had to go to Istanbul to settle some personal matters regarding his upcoming marriage.

Abdelaziz added that Khashoggi met with the Saudi consulate in Washington and tried to handle the situation there, but was asked to go to Istanbul instead.

He said the journalist was in contact with Saudi officials and he had a good relationship with many of them.

However, Abdelaziz explained Riyadh wanted him back in the country to “neutralise” him and keep him away from other Saudi dissidents living abroad.

Khashoggi did not think he would be in danger if he went to Istanbul, Abdelaziz reiterated. He said the journalist was aware that some slip-ups could be committed by the kingdom, but Khashoggi never imagined that they could go to such lengths.

However, Khashoggi's fiance, Hatice Cengiz, said he had told her to contact authorities if he did not emerge from the consulate, which indicates that Khashoggi did have some doubt he could be in danger.

Abdelaziz and Khashoggi were working on joint media projects aimed at alerting the Saudi public to human and political rights.

One of the projects was called “Nahlat” (the bees in Arabic), to counter the social media campaigns waged by pro-government accounts on social media.

Since Khashoggi collaborated with the Washington Post, Abdelaziz said, he was a victim of harassment via Twitter from people commonly known as “electronic flies”.

This describes a vast network of Twitter accounts, real people and bots, that amplify the Saudi government denials of involvement and harassment of dissidents.

There was also one other project the two men were about to work on — a documentary detailing democracy and human rights.

Journalist • Pascale Davies

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