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Saudis accuse British staff of destabilization campaign

The Guardian
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 has learned.
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 confessions.

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 confessed.

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 and sentenced.

· 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 were confiscated.

· 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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