||Saudis accuse British staff
of destabilization campaign
September 7, 2002
British embassy staff in Riyadh have been
accused by the Saudi Arabian authorities of coordinating a campaign
of anti-western terrorist bombings in the kingdom, the Guardian
The accusation that the British embassy in Riyadh coordinated the
bombings to destabilise the Saudi regime is the latest and most
bizarre piece of information to escape the pall of secrecy behind
which the Saudis have been conducting legal proceedings against
seven westerners who say they have been tortured into making false
Two Britons have been killed and several
other westerners maimed or injured since November 2000 in a bombing
campaign widely believed to be the work of anti-western extremists.
The allegation against the British mission
in Riyadh, confirmed yesterday by the Foreign Office, was at the
heart of the prosecution case against five Britons, a Canadian and
a Belgian detained in the kingdom.
In televised "confessions" broadcast
last year, six of the men said they had been "ordered"
to carry out the attacks but did not say by whom.
A Guardian investigation this year discredited
the case against the men and uncovered evidence of systematic torture
by ministry of interior officials.
In a prosecution document presented to
a panel of Saudi judges last year, ministry investigators claimed
the men were acting on orders from British embassy officials. The
men were subsequently convicted and received sentences ranging from
eight years in prison to the death penalty.
The allegation that the British embassy
was accused of involvement in the terrorist campaign will embarrass
the Foreign Office, which is wary of being seen to criticise its
closest Arab ally.
Yesterday the Foreign Office denied the
allegations against its officials: "We have been aware of the
allegations against embassy staff for some time. The allegations
were investigated by members of the Metropolitan police [visiting
Riyadh] and their firm conclusion was that they were groundless."
According to defence papers submitted
by way of appeal to the Saudi supreme court last month and seen
by the Guardian the men were systematically tortured until they
They were subjected to sleep deprivation
for up to 10 days at a time, suspended from chains hanging from
hooks above their cell doors and repeatedly beaten. They were told
their relatives would be harmed if they did not cooperate and were
offered early release in exchange for confessions.
The document also reveals that:
· The officer in charge of the
investigation and prosecution did not speak a foreign language,
and the translator had only a rudimentary knowledge of English.
· Despite being appointed in October
2000 the men's lawyers were not permitted to present their defence
until last month.
· The lawyers have been denied
access to the investigation reports or any other related documents.
· The detainees were not told they
were standing trial when they first appeared before judges last
year. They still have not been told that they have been found guilty
· Lawyers were unable to get statements
from the men because they were denied access to pencils and paper
in prison. Notes the men took during interviews with the lawyers
· There are "striking resemblances"
between the phrases used in the "confessions".
· The men were kept in solitary
confinement for up to a year after their "confessions".
The men's lawyers expect the supreme court
to make an initial ruling by the end of month.
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