Iyad el-Baghdadi, activist in Norway, 'warned by CIA of Saudi threat'

Author and blogger, Iyad el-Baghdadi, photographed in Oslo, Norway, on 7 May 2019.Image source, EPA

An Arab pro-democracy activist says he was whisked away to safety by officials in Norway, where he lives, after being told of a threat from Saudi Arabia.

Iyad el-Baghdadi told the BBC he believed the threat was related to his work on Saudi human rights projects.

According to the Guardian newspaper, information about the threat came from the CIA, which then notified Norway.

"If they don't want to kill me, then I'm not doing my job," he wrote on Twitter, after the news came to light.

The Palestinian author and blogger is outspoken on the social media platform, often criticising leaders in the Middle East.

This includes Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, whose aides have been accused of ordering the murder of Saudi journalist and critic Jamal Khashoggi, inside the kingdom's consulate in Istanbul last year.

Mr Baghdadi, who knew Khashoggi, told Al-Jazeera: "A big part of my work these past two years was focused on the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia, especially after the murder of my friend Jamal Khashoggi."

The CIA, Norwegian and Saudi authorities have not commented on the case.

What do we know?

He said he was first made aware of the threat on 25 April, when Norwegian officials appeared at his home and warned him that he could be in danger.

"I was not placed under protection for a long time. I was away for two to three hours, and the authorities have told me that so long as I'm in Oslo I'm reasonably safe. They said I will be provided with police protection soon," he tweeted.

"They seem to have me in their cross-hairs but it's not clear what they want to do," he added, clarifying that the nature of the threat was unclear and there was no indication of "a specific plot".

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.View original tweet on Twitter

The Norwegian police security service had informed him that the threat was Saudi-related, a representative for the Kawaakibi Foundation, a non-profit organisation that Mr Baghdadi co-founded, told the BBC.

"We believe it to be related to our projects on human rights in Saudi Arabia over the last two years, including campaigning and supporting activists and families of imprisoned activists, our work with Jamal Khashoggi, and our investigation two months ago indicating that Saudi Arabia was behind the [Amazon boss] Jeff Bezos phone hack - but we have no confirmation of this," the statement added.

The Guardian, which broke the story, said Norway had received the intelligence from the CIA. However, the CIA has so far declined to comment on the case.

According to US policy, the agency has a legal "duty to warn" if it gathers "credible and specific information indicating an impending threat of intentional killing, serious bodily injury, or kidnapping directed at a person or group of people".

Mr Baghdadi told the Guardian that the Norwegian authorities had arrived with two squads - one to take him to safety and the second to guarantee they would not be followed.

He told Norway's NRK public broadcaster that he had cancelled an upcoming trip abroad on the advice of the Norwegian authorities.

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.View original tweet on Twitter

The popular blogger, who has over 127,000 followers on Twitter, gained prominence during the Arab Spring in 2011.

The Palestinian was granted asylum in Norway in 2015, after being expelled from the United Arab Emirates where he grew up.