Saudi Arabian specialised anti-terror court announces 325 appeals by terrorist suspects

Arab News reports that a special anti-terror court in Riyadh has so far issued preliminary verdicts on 442 cases involving 765 Al-Qaeda militants, the Justice Ministry said Saturday, adding that the terror suspects appealed 325 verdicts.

The ministry’s spokesman, Abdullah Al-Saadan, said the militants were facing charges such as association with Al-Qaeda, participation in terrorism, funding terror, and accepting the Al-Qaeda ideology and supporting its crimes.

Saudi Arabia expresses frustration on non-refoulement policies of Europe

Cable 09JEDDAH343
describes a meeting between Saudi Second Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of  Interior Prince Nayif bin Abdulaziz (reftel), John Brennan,  Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and  Counterterrorism in which Nayif expressed frustration with the limited  cooperation of friendly European nations with whom the  Kingdom has security agreements.
The governments, he  complained, shared information but did not take any action.  As a result, “terrorists roam around freely in their  countries,” and the Europeans have not handed over terrorists.  For example, Ibrahim (Salih Mohammed Al-Yacoub),  a very important suspect involved in the Khobar bombing, was  in Europe.  Saudi Arabia asked several nations to hand him  over as a terrorist who had acted against the Kingdom and the  United States.  Nayif complained that while these European  countries were friendly, had good relations, and shared  interests with the Kingdom, he failed to understand why  Europeans harbored terrorists working against Saudi Arabia in  their countries.  If there were people in Saudi Arabia  working against friendly countries, the SAG would intervene.  Nayif requested USG help in convincing Europe to work more  cooperatively.  Brennan commented that we had similar  frustrations with some countries.

Saudi Arabia is still key player in fight against terrorism

Western intelligence officials say the Saudis’ own experience with jihadists has helped them develop powerful surveillance tools and a broad network of informers that has become increasingly important in the global battle against terrorism.

Saudi king limits fatwas

A Saudi royal order limiting the number of religious rulings, or fatwas, that can be issued is an attempt to bring order to what has become a chaotic field since the advent of satellite television and the Internet, analysts say.

King Abdullah’s decree, issued Thursday, prohibits anyone other than Islamic scholars appointed by him from issuing public religious rulings.

“We have noticed some excesses that we cannot tolerate, and it is our legal duty to stand up to these with strength and resolve to preserve religion,” the Saudi ruler said in his order, which was addressed to the kingdom’s grand mufti, the most senior official pronouncing on religious matters.

Governments threaten to suspend Blackberry services

The UAE, which includes the business centres of Dubai  and Abu Dhabi, said it would prevent BlackBerry services such as email, web browsing and text messaging from October, after first raising concerns with the Canadian manufacturer Research In Motion (RIM) three years ago. The ban will extend to visitors to the UAE who take their BlackBerrys  with them, although phone services will still be available.

Within hours of the UAE’s decision to block BlackBerry services, a Saudi telecommunications official said the desert kingdom would begin blocking the BlackBerry messaging service starting later this month. However, Saudi Arabia and the company that makes BlackBerry mobile devices are testing a plan that would allow the government to monitor messages sent to and from the smart phones. RIM went to work on providing a server for the country. On August 9, it was reported that the server was now operational, allowing BlackBerry users to continue to use the instant messaging service.

In a statement issued on Sunday, the UAE’s telecoms authority said the decision to ban data services “is based on the fact that, in their  current form, certain BlackBerry services allow users to act without any legal accountability, causing judicial, social and national security  concerns”.The UAE government, which relies heavily on high-tech surveillance measures as key elements of its security infrastructure, said it had had discussions with RIM about its concerns but no progress was made. But Mohammed al-Ghanim, director-general of the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority, dismissed suggestions that the regulator’s decision had anything to do with censorship.

“It is about regulatory compliance and we are not asking for RIM to do anything that is not apparently being done in developed nations or so-called open countries around the world,” he said.

The Gulf states have singled out BlackBerry, which has 46m users worldwide, because unlike rivals, it encrypts its data and processes it through a handful of secure operational centres, chiefly in Canada, putting them outside of local jurisdictions. That makes it a more secure network and popular for corporate and government users, but more difficult to monitor. Other smartphones, like the Apple iPhone, are not tied to one e-mail service. In general, that means e-mail to and from the devices mostly travels over the open Internet and can be relatively easily monitored.

The move to suspend data services on the popular devices is the latest flare-up as governments in the Middle East and other countries including China, Turkey and Pakistan grapple with the free flow of information over the internet.The administration in Bahrain recently banned the provision of local news on BlackBerry devices. In Kuwait, in contrast, the instant messaging service will continue, but following negotiations between the Kuwaiti Communications Ministry and RIM, 3,000 websites with licentious content are to be blocked.

Last month, the Indian government renewed a threat to ban BlackBerry services unless RIM gave it access to data transferred by its secured messaging system. This was resolved last week after the head of internal security in India said RIM agreed to address concerns over the possible use of its data services by terrorists.

According to the Financial Times, Google and Skype could face similar threats in the future. Minutes from an Indian government meeting obtained by the newspaper say:

“There was consensus that there [is] more than one type of service for which solutions are to be explored. Some of them are BlackBerry, Skype, Google etc,” the minutes read. “It was decided first to undertake the issue of BlackBerry and then the other services.”

It’s unlikely that the Indian government is interested in Google’s search business, but about 20 million Indians are active on Google’s social networking service, Orkut, which encourages them to communicate with each other over Google Talk.

Arranging lawful interception of peer-to-peer services like Skype and Google Talk will be more difficult than for BlackBerry. The latter at least goes through a single server, while VoIP communications such as Skype are genuinely peer-to-peer in that once a call has been established the communication is entirely decentralised.

Research in Motion (RIM) has responded to a report in India’s  Economic Times reported saying the firm will allow Indian security authorities to monitor Blackberry services.

“We won’t compromise on the security architecture of our corporate e-mails,” said RIM’s India spokesman, Satchit Gayakwad.

“We respect the requirements of regulatory bodies in terms of security, but we also look at the customer’s need for privacy.”

And in a further statement the firm said it co-operated with  all governments “with a consistent standard and the same degree of respect”.

The firm also denied it had ever provided anything unique to the government of one country that it had not offered to the governments of all countries.

RIM further said any access it granted governments and local carriers met four criteria – it was legal; the access granted to BlackBerry devices was no greater than that granted to other services; it did not change the security architecture for corporate BlackBerry customers; and it did not make country-specific deals.

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Saudi to codify Sharia and reform criminal law system: more clarity in terrorism-related trials

Saudi Arabia’s top religious body has given the green light to codify the largely unwritten Sharia regulations governing the kingdom’s criminal, civil and family courts in order to bring more clarity and uniformity to judicial rulings. The codification project is part of a major overhaul of the country’s legal system initiated three years ago by King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz.

Legal reforms are especially needed in the criminal law system. Criminal courts are a frequent targets of criticism from Saudi lawyers and human rights activists. The absence of a penal code with clear definitions of crimes and appropriate sentences gives judges great latitude and it is not uncommon for a judge to increase a sentence if a defendant exercises his right to appeal. Defendants are not always given lawyers and trials are generally not open to the public.

Last year, 330 suspects detained on terrorism-related charges were tried in secret in a new court attached to Riyadh General Court. Most of them were sentenced to prison terms of varying lengths and one received the death sentence, which the government announced after the trials were over.

Saudi rights activists and lawyers in touch with families of detainees said the trials amounted to summary judgments in which the defendants did not have appropriate opportunities to challenge evidence presented by prosecutors.

“It’s shameful to have this kind of trial [because] there are a lot of mistakes,” said Abdelaziz M al Gasim, a former judge who now works as a lawyer. He said that one defendant received a 10-year sentence for giving a lift to people whom he did not know were al Qa’eda members. “There are no lawyers, no family, no audience, no journalists, so it is broken trials,” said Mr al Gasim.

Saudi judges are said to be weary of any code that would impinge their independence to apply their own legal reasoning, or ijtihad. However, some Saudis say that creating more transparency and predictability in the legal process will not weaken the rule of Sharia in the legal system.

25 recidivism cases among Saudi ex-Guantanamo prisoners

25 former Guantanamo Bay detainees have rejoined Islamic extremist groups after going through a rehabilitation program in Saudi Arabia aimed at decreasing religious radicalism within the country, according to Abdulrahman al-Hadlaq, a top Saudi security expert. Out of the 25 former Guantanamo detainees who returned to extremist activities, 11 were believed to have joined an al-Qaeda group in Yemen, while the rest have been killed or re-arrested.

The Saudi expert reports that about 300 men have completed the rehabilitation program, with an overall recidivism rate of about 10 percent. Out of the 300 men who have completed the rehabilitation, 120 were formerly held at Guantanamo Bay, making the recidivism rate among former Guantanamo detainees about twice that of those who were not detained by the US. Hadlaq blamed the discrepancy in the rate of recidivism on the close personal ties developed between former detainees at Guantanamo, as well as the harsh tactics used by the US, which he stated led to more extremist views.

“Those guys from other groups didn’t suffer torture before, the non-Guantanamos (participants). Torturing is the most dangerous thing in radicalisation. You have more extremist people if you have more torture,” Hadlaq told reporters in a rare briefing about Saudi anti-terrorism efforts.

Overall Hadlaq indicated that the rehabilitation program, which includes religious re-education and financial support, is considered a success.