Fri. Mar 24th, 2023

DUBAI: A US citizen has been detained in Saudi Arabia after getting into a dispute with security officials while performing the umrah pilgrimage, a family spokesman said on Sunday.
Mohamad Salem was taken into custody on Nov 1 and has been transferred to a maximum-security facility typically used for high-profile political prisoners and suspected terrorists, Abdallah Moughni said by phone from the US state of Michigan, where Salem lives.
He is one of several Americans who have recently run afoul of Saudi authorities, amid heightened tensions between the two longtime partners over global oil supply.
Salem, a 63-year-old of Yemeni origin, travelled to Saudi Arabia with two of his sons to perform umrah at the Grand Mosque in Makkah, Moughni said.
While in line, he got into a verbal altercation with security officials who separated him from his sons. Later, two men approached him, saying they were from Libya and asking what happened.
“At this point, Mohamad was livid, he was furious. He just let it out. He said, ‘If it was not for Makkah and Madina, we would burn this country to the ground’,” said Moughni, who confirmed details of the incident by speaking to Salem’s sons.
The two men turned out to be undercover Saudi agents, and Salem was detained, Moughni said. Saudi officials and the US embassy in Riyadh did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Moughni said the embassy had provided Salem’s family with a list of possible lawyers but so far none had agreed to take the case. Salem’s relatives do not know whether he has been charged.
They have grown increasingly concerned for his welfare since Salem was transferred to Dhahban Central Prison, where Amnesty International has previously documented allegations of torture via electrocution and flogging.
Americans in custody
Saudi Arabia is often criticised for not tolerating dissent and has recently been in the spotlight for decades-long prison sentences handed down to two women who tweeted and retweeted posts critical of the government.
Last month, the family of Saad Ibrahim Almadi, a 72-year-old US citizen of Saudi origin, said he had received a 16-year prison sentence apparently because of Twitter posts on topics including the war in Yemen and the 2018 killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
This week, Carly Morris, an American woman who has publicly accused her Saudi ex-husband of trapping their daughter in the kingdom under so-called guardianship laws, was briefly detained but then released.
Moughni said he hoped that political disagreements between Riyadh and Washington would not affect how Salem is treated.
The two countries have been at odds over Saudi Arabia’s push to cut oil production, which the White House has said amounts to siding with Russia in the Ukraine war.
“Hopefully the citizens don’t have to suffer for the words of the government,” Moughni said.
“We are allies at the end of the day. And at some point there needs to be some type of benefit to being an ally.” Moughni said it was “outrageous” to think Salem deserved harsh treatment.
“This just isn’t one of those cases where they got a big fish, (or) they caught somebody who committed an actual crime,” Moughni said.
“What he said was not a reflection of what he was going to act upon. He was heated.” He described Salem as “very respected” and “God-fearing”.
“At the end of the day,” he said, “all we can do is highlight the situation and pray the Saudi government can find remorse in their heart and let this slide.”
Published in Dawn, November 14th, 2022 Pvt. Ltd. ( for Dawn.
Copyright © 2023, Dawn
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