By Tariq al-Thaqafi - Mecca, Asharq Al-Awsat – Saudi Arabia has expressed its concern about the safety of its diplomats working abroad following the killing of Saudi diplomat Khalaf Al Ali in Bangladesh earlier this week, particularly in light of the increasing number of attacks that have been carried out or uncovered targeting Saudi diplomats abroad in recent years.
In an exclusive interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, Saudi Foreign Ministry spokesman Ambassador Dr. Osama Naqli stressed that the Saudi Foreign Ministry is capable of protecting its diplomas and staff working abroad. He also revealed that the Saudi Foreign Ministry periodically sends “secret” instructions and precautions to its staff abroad to implement in order to protect themselves and their families. The Saudi Foreign Ministry official refused to disclose the nature of these “secret” instructions for fear of endangering the lives of Saudi diplomats working abroad.
Dr. Naqli asserted that diplomatic protection and security is usually provided by the country hosting the diplomats, stressing that this is a part of diplomatic traditional, in addition to the basis of a number of international agreements, that a country must provide protection to all foreign diplomats working on its soil. He added that Saudi security officers also operate within its embassies abroad, in coordination with the security authorities in the host country.
He refused to reveal the nature of the security precautions that Saudi diplomatic staff adopt when working abroad for fears that this could place Saudi diplomats and Foreign Ministry staff in danger. However Dr. Naqli did stress that if Saudi diplomats follow all these instructions and precautions then, God willing, they and their families would be less likely to be attacked.
As for whether Riyadh believes that its diplomats abroad are increasingly coming under threat, the Saudi Foreign Ministry official told Asharq Al-Awsat that “our effort to protect diplomats and staff at embassies abroad is intensive, and we continue to work on this in a manner based on strengthening our precautionary security measures.”
In response to a question whether Saudi Arabia has expanded the scope of its concern in light of the increasing targeting of Saudi diplomats abroad, Dr. Naqli stressed that Saudi Arabia – as a government and a people – is concerned and committed to the security of every single Saudi Arabian abroad, refusing to go into specifics.
The Saudi Foreign Ministry official also refused to speculate whether specific countries or parties are behind the targeting of Saudi diplomats abroad, preferring to wait until all the investigations are completed. As for the murder of Khalaf Al Ali, he said that the investigations are ongoing to uncover the circumstances and motive of this attack, refusing to engage in speculation on this in order not to prejudice the investigation.
The murder of Khalaf Al Ali prompted questions about the security of Saudi diplomats working abroad, particularly as there have been 23 separate attacks on Saudi diplomats in recent times, including shootings and explosions.
The most prominent Saudi diplomat to be targeted was Saudi ambassador to the US Adel al-Jubeir, after an assassination plot targeting him was uncovered last October by the FBI. US officials revealed that they had thwarted a major Iranian-backed assassination-for-hire plot targeting the Saudi ambassador to Washington. US Attorney General Eric Holder claimed that elements of the Iranian government directed the plot.
As for the most violent attack on Saudi diplomats in recent times, 3 Saudi diplomats were shot and killed in Bangkok in 1990, whilst a Saudi diplomat was also killed in Turkey in 1988. More recently, Saudi diplomat Hassan al-Qahtani was shot and killed in Karachi last year by elements of the Taliban.
For his part, Dr. Abdullah al-Buraidi, professor of organized behavior at Qassim University, told Asharq Al-Awsat that we have to ask certain important questions to uncover the truth behind these attacks on Saudi diplomats, such as: are Saudi diplomats being targeted in particular? If so, then why? Are diplomats targeted at specific times or in specific locations? What are the implications of this? How can we organize against such attacks, both in the short and long-term?
Al-Buraidi added “regardless of whether we agree or disagree that Saudi diplomats are being targeted, I believe that Saudi diplomatic missions must enjoy a complete and comprehensive package of security, and this is a shared responsibility between the Saudi government and the governments of the countries hosting Saudi diplomatic missions.:”
The university professor added “we stress the need for security education for members of diplomatic missions, and this is something that should be reflected in the [diplomatic] training program. More than this, such education should be viewed as a continuous learning process.”