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Saud al-Qahtani
General Supervisor of the Center for Studies and Media Affairs

In office
Personal details
Born July 7, 1978(1978-07-07) (age 44)
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
Military service
Allegiance  Saudi Arabia
Service/branch Royal Saudi Air Force
Rank Sergeant

Saud bin Abdullah al-Qahtani (born July 7, 1978) is a Saudi Arabian consultant and former royal court advisor. Prior to his dismissal in late 2018, he worked as a legal advisor to King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and a media consultant, close advisor, and friend[1] to crown prince Mohammed bin Salman.[2] His official post was General Supervisor of the Center for Studies and Media Affairs.[3][4]

Described as a "nationalist ideologue", al-Qahtani served as a major influence over Mohammed bin Salman's foreign and domestic policies.[5][6]

He reportedly oversaw the killing of Jamal Khashoggi,[7] among other interrogations and torture. It was after this event that he was dismissed. In December Turkish officials issued a warrant for his arrest for the murder of Khashoggi. As of March 2019 he is reportedly under house arrest.[8]

In April 2019, as a response to Khashoggi's murder, the United States Government banned al-Qahtani and 15 others from entering the United States.[9]

Early life

Al-Qahtani was born in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on July 7, 1978.[10][11] He received a bachelor's degree in law from King Saud University, and graduated with the rank of sergeant from the Royal Saudi Air Force.[10] Al-Qahtani subsequently obtained a master's degree in criminal justice from the Naif Arab University for Security Sciences (NAUSS).[10][12]


Al-Qahtani previously worked as a journalist for Elaph and as a contributor for Al Riyadh.[12]

After obtaining a law degree, al-Qahtani worked as an adviser to the deputy chief of the royal court.[2] In 2003, he served as a legal advisor to the secretariat to then crown prince Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz.[10] In the early 2000s he was hired by Khaled al-Tuwaijri to protect Saudi Arabia's reputation via an "electronic army".[7] In 2008, he became responsible for media monitoring for the royal court.[10] Al-Qahtani worked extensively with Hacking Team for espionage purposes.[13][14][15][16] He was also reportedly active on the Hack Forums, using the username Nokia2mon2.[15][17][18]

He was officially appointed an advisor to the royal court in 2012 and was given the rank of minister in 2015.[10][12][19]

He was also President and Chairman of the Saudi Federation of Cyber Security, Programming, and Drones (SAFCSP).[4][20][21] Al-Qahtani also served on the board of directors of King Abdul Aziz University, the MiSK Foundation, the Royal Commission for Al-Ula, and the Saudi Union for Cyber Security and Programming.[10]

2016 US lobbying, foreign affairs

In 2016, Al-Qahtani signed on two US lobbying firms: BGR Group "will provide public relations and media management services for The Center [for Studies and Media Affairs at The Saudi Royal Court], which includes both traditional and social media forums," for which they were to be paid US$500,000.00,[22] while Squire Patton Boggs were to be paid $100,000 per month, plus expenses, for "legal and strategic policy advice and advocacy on foreign policy and related issues in the U.S. Government".[23]

During the 2017–18 Qatar diplomatic crisis, al-Qahtani urged Saudi citizens to identify suspected supporters of Qatar through a "Black List" hashtag on Twitter.[13]

He reportedly oversaw the interrogation of Saad al-Hariri during the 2017 Lebanon–Saudi Arabia dispute.[7]

Internal Saudi affairs

In 2017, al-Qahtani was an instrumental figure in the 2017 Saudi Arabian purge, luring targets to The Ritz-Carlton, Riyadh by arranging fake meetings there.[24] Al-Qahtani reportedly pressured detainees to sign over assets under threat of torture and imprisonment.[8]

In 2018, al-Qahtani reportedly oversaw the torture of several female activists in Saudi Arabia including Loujain al-Hathloul.[25] The activists, who had been campaigning against the male guardianship system and for the right to drive, were reportedly subjected to sexual assault, electrical torture, flogging, and threats of rape and murder.[8][25] Al-Qahtani was personally present during at least one of the interrogation session and is reported to have personally threatened to rape, murder, and dump the body of one of the activists into the sewers.[26]

Assassination of Jamal Khashoggi

The United States intelligence community has identified al-Qahtani as the ringleader of the assassination of Saudi dissident and Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi.[27] Al-Qahtani acted as the head of what American intelligence officials called the Saudi Rapid Intervention Group, which has reportedly undertaken at least a dozen operations since 2017.[8]

Al-Qahtani had been in contact with Khashoggi since at least October 2017, alerting Khashoggi that his public writings were being monitored.[28] Al-Qahtani was reportedly involved with luring Khashoggi back to Saudi Arabia, suggesting to Khashoggi that he might be able to work with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.[29]

After the assassination of Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2, 2018, al-Qahtani was dismissed as the royal court's supervisor of media affairs.[30][31][32] According to Arab and Turkish sources, al-Qahtani organized the Khashoggi operation, even calling into the consulate via Skype to talk with and insult Khashoggi before telling the assembled team: "Bring me the head of the dog."[7] The Saudi state prosecutor announced on 15 November 2018 that 11 agents were indicted and 5 charged with murdering Khashoggi. He added that Al-Qahtani met the leader of the team that killed Khashoggi before it was dispatched to Turkey. Al-Qahtani was not arrested.[24] Saudi officials have never revealed the whereabouts of Khashoggi’s remains.

Prince Mohammed bin Salman exchanged at least 11 messages with al-Qahtani in the hours before and after the assassination of Khashoggi, leading the Central Intelligence Agency to conclude that Mohammed ordered Khashoggi's murder.[29] A member of the Saudi hit team, Maher Mutreb, also called al-Qahtani to inform him that the operation has been completed.[33] However, the message-exchange element of the report was contested by Saudi Arabia based on a confidential Saudi-commissioned investigation.[34]

In November 2018, Saudi authorities confirmed that he was being investigated and was barred to leave the country. On December 5, 2018, the Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor's Office requested, and was issued, an arrest warrant for Saud al-Qahtani for the murder of Khashoggi.[35][36] Saudi Minister of Foreign Affairs Adel al-Jubeir rejected Turkey's request for al-Qahtani's extradition on December 9, stating that Saudi Arabia does not extradite its citizens.[37]

In January 2019, the Saudi authorities were, according to The Washington Post, refusing to confirm the whereabouts of al-Qahtani. There were concerns that he could be influencing the investigation itself.[38] Khalil Jahshan, executive director of the Arab Centre of Washington DC, stated in an interview with Al Jazeera, that al-Qahtani's "disappearance" was a "natural progression of [Saudi Arabia's] investigation" and is likely used as a strategy to keep crown prince Mohammed bin Salman protected from accusations regarding Khashoggi's murder: "They have sheltered some of the key players accused of being involved [in the murder] whether by Turkey or by the international community. The intention of the Saudi campaign right now is to keep the crown prince clear of any accusations with regards to the murder of Khashoggi."[39]

In December 2019, Saudi state TV reported that al-Qahtani was investigated for his role in the murder of Khashoggi but was cleared of any charges as there was no proof of involvement. Five others were sentenced to death and another three given a combined 24 year prison sentence.[40] Agnès Callamard called the Saudi trials for "the antithesis of justice", and "a mockery".[41]


Al-Qahtani was known to procure offensive hacking tools on behalf of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, among them tools made by the Italian company Hacking Team.[1]

On March 5, 2019, The Guardian reported that a strain had developed between King Salman and his son, Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman.[42] March 7, 2019, al-Qahtani reportedly signed an order instructing "a technical team to carry out the "penetration" of the Guardian's computer servers "in complete secrecy"".[43]

According to an analysis by FTI Consulting, al-Qahtani procured the tools used to hack Jeff Bezos' mobile phone (CEO of Amazon and owner of The Washington Post) - five months before the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. FTI Consulting was asked to look at Bezos' devices after the US tabloid The National Enquirer (publisher American Media Inc owned by David Pecker) exposed Bezos' relationship with his then mistress Lauren Sanchez. Bezos accused Pecker of trying to blackmail him with the threat of publishing "intimate photos" he allegedly sent to Sanchez.[44] Bezos' team suggested it was an orchestrated take down by American Media Inc and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.[1][45] The Guardian reported that a WhatsApp message sent from the personal account of Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman was the source of the hack. A UN report came to the same conclusion, experts lent their weight to allegations that Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman hacked the mobile phone of Bezos to “influence, if not silence” The Washington Post' reporting.[46] Agnes Callamard, UN special rapporteur on summary executions and extrajudicial killings, and David Kaye, UN special rapporteur on freedom of expression, issued the joint statement, which emphasized that "at a time when Saudi Arabia was supposedly investigating the killing of Mr. Khashoggi, and prosecuting those it deemed responsible, it was clandestinely waging a massive online campaign against Mr. Bezos and Amazon targeting him principally as the owner of The Washington Post," ... "the alleged hacking of Mr. Bezos's phone, and those of others, demands immediate investigation by US and other relevant authorities, including investigation of the continuous, multi-year, direct and personal involvement of the crown prince in efforts to target perceived opponents." UN investigators concluded that Saudi use of the Pegasus spyware , which enables remote surveillance of cellphones, from controversial Israeli technology firm NSO Group was the “most likely explanation” the hacking attack against Bezos. Facebook, which owns WhatsApp, has since sued NSO Group in America.[47][48][49]

2019 alleged death

In August 2019, Saudi critic İyad el-Baghdadi tweeted[50] that al-Qahtani had been poisoned. In September 2019 Bloomberg News noted the poisoning rumors, but stated that two people close to al-Qahtani stated that he was still alive.[51]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Zetter, Kim; Cox, Joseph (January 22, 2020). "Here Is the Technical Report Suggesting Saudi Arabia’s Prince Hacked Jeff Bezos’ Phone". Vice Media. "The digital forensic results, combined with a larger investigation, interviews, research, and expert intelligence information, led the investigators “to assess Bezos’ phone was compromised via tools procured by Saud al Qahtani,” the report states." 
  2. 2.0 2.1 "Who is Saud al-Qahtani, the fired Saudi royal court adviser?". Al Jazeera English. October 20, 2018. 
  3. "Saud Qahtani: Saudi authorities are taking legal steps against beIN Sports". June 23, 2018. "Saud Al-Qahtani, the general supervisor of the Center for Studies and Media Affairs at the Saudi Royal Court, confirmed that relevant Saudi authorities are taking the necessary legal steps against the beIN Sports channels for “bringing politics into sports”." 
  4. 4.0 4.1 SANS Institute. "The Prince Mohammad Bin Salman College for Cyber Security, Artificial Intelligence & Advanced Technologies has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the SANS Institute to benefit of the professional and specialised training in the different fields of cyber security.". LinkedIn. "The memorandum was signed by the Dean of the College Dr. Abdullah Al-Dahlawi – on behalf of HE the General Supervisor of the Center for Studies and Media Affairs at the Saudi Royal Court & Chairman of the Saudi Federation for Cyber Security, Programming & Drones (SAFCSP) Dr. Saud Alqahtani" 
  5. "Spotlight: Inside the stricken court of crown prince Mohammed Bin Salman". GQ. 27 December 2018. 
  6. "Saudi ‘Mr. Hashtag’ becomes fall guy in Khashoggi case, but is he really down?". France 24. 25 October 2018. 
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 Galloni, Alessandra, ed (October 22, 2018). "How the man behind Khashoggi murder ran the killing via Skype". Reuters. 
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 Mazzetti, Mark; Hubbard, Ben (March 17, 2019). "Saudi Crown Prince’s Brutal Drive to Crush Dissenters Began Before Khashoggi". 
  9. "Pompeo Bars 16 Saudis From U.S. in Response to Khashoggi Killing". Retrieved 8 April 2019. 
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 10.4 10.5 10.6 "FaceOf: Saud Al-Qahtani, Saudi Royal Court adviser". 
  11. "Global Magnitsky Designations". Office of Foreign Assets Control. November 15, 2018. "AL-QAHTANI, Saud (a.k.a. ALQAHTANI, Saud Abdullah S), Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; DOB 07 Jul 1978; POB Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; nationality Saudi Arabia; Gender Male; Passport D079021 (individual)" 
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 Said al-Arabi (August 23, 2017). "Who is Saoud al-Qahtani, Saudi Arabia's Steve Bannon?". 
  13. 13.0 13.1 Ignatius, David (December 7, 2018). "How a chilling Saudi cyberwar ensnared Jamal Khashoggi". 
  14. Madore, P. H. (September 28, 2018). "Saudi Arabia Wanted to Own Hacking Team". "As late as 2015, it appears Hacking Team had ongoing interactions with the Saudi Royal Family, with H.E. Saud Al-Qahtani, an officer of the Royal Court, contacting them in late June in his capacity for “media monitoring” and more." 
  15. 15.0 15.1 Franceschi-Bicchierai, Lorenzo (October 29, 2018). "How ‘Mr. Hashtag’ Helped Saudi Arabia Spy on Dissidents". Vice Media. 
  16. "The Hackingteam Archives". WikiLeaks. 
  17. "nokia2mon2". Hack Forums. January 25, 2018. 
  18. 420cartel/@DaleInCyber (October 23, 2018). "Ex HF member nokia2mon2 directed murder of Jamal Khashoggi". Hack Forums. "Ex-member of this site nokia2mon2 (Saud al-Qahtani) directed the murder of Saudi opposer Jamal Khashoggi over Skype. - - [...] Proof Nokia2mon2 is Saud al-Qahtani -" 
  19. "Royal Order: Appointing Saud Al-Qahtani as Advisor, at the Royal Court". Saudi Press Agency. December 12, 2015. "Appointing Saud bin Abdullah Al-Qahtani, as an advisor, at the Royal Court, at the Ministerial Rank." 
  20. "Jeddah to host Drone Racing World Championship finals". Bahrain News Agency. September 12, 2018. "The event will be hosted by Saudi Federation of Cyber Security, Programming, and Drones (SAFCSP), under the patronage of the Saudi Royal Court advisor and the President of SAFCSP, Saud Alqahtani, Centre for International Communication (CIC) reported." 
  21. "Saudi Federation for Cybersecurity, Programming and Drones signs a memorandum of understanding with the Advanced Electronics Company". Saudi Press Agency. April 26, 2018. "The Royal Adviser and Chairman of SAFCS Saud Al-Qahtani pointed out that this memorandum would[...]" 
  22. BGR Government Affairs (March 15, 2016). "5430-Exhibit-AB-20160315-53.pdf". United States Department of Justice. 
  23. Squire Patton Boggs (US) LLP (September 20, 2016). "2165-Exhibit-AB-20160920-67.pdf". United States Department of Justice. 
  24. 24.0 24.1 Kerr, Simeon; Raval, Anjli; England, Andrew (November 18, 2018). "Saudi ‘prince of darkness’ lingers in the shadows". 
  25. 25.0 25.1 Reuters (December 7, 2018). "Aide to Mohammed bin Salman 'supervised torture of female prisoner'". 
  26. Qiblawi, Tamara. "Story of disappeared Saudi power couple spotlights dissident crackdown". CNN. Retrieved 9 January 2019. 
  27. Mazzetti, Mark; Hubbard, Ben; Barnes, Julian E.; Gibbons-Neff, Thomas; Kirkpatrick, David D. (February 7, 2019). "Year Before Killing, Saudi Prince Told Aide He Would Use ‘a Bullet’ on Jamal Khashoggi". 
  28. Mekhennet, Souad; Miller, Greg (December 22, 2018). "Jamal Khashoggi’s final months as an exile in the long shadow of Saudi Arabia". 
  29. 29.0 29.1 Harris, Shane; Mekhennet, Souad (December 2, 2018). "Saudi crown prince exchanged messages with aide alleged to have overseen Khashoggi killing". 
  30. Benner, Katie; Mazzetti, Mark; Hubbard, Ben; Isaac, Mike. "Saudis’ Image Makers: A Troll Army and a Twitter Insider". 
  31. Jacinto, Leela (October 25, 2018). "Saudi ‘Mr. Hashtag’ becomes fall guy in Khashoggi case, but is he really down?". France 24. 
  32. dos Santos, Nina; Kaplan, Michael (December 3, 2018). "Jamal Khashoggi's private WhatsApp messages may offer new clues to killing". CNN. "Chillingly, the men mention also Saud al Qathani, bin Salman's powerful social media enforcer -- fired and under investigation in Saudi Arabia amid claims by Turkey that he was the mastermind of Khashoggi's murder." 
  33. Harris, Shane; Miller, Greg; Dawsey, Josh (November 16, 2018). "CIA concludes Saudi crown prince ordered Jamal Khashoggi’s assassination". "Mutreb called Saud al-Qahtani, then one of the top aides to Mohammed, and informed him that the operation had been completed, according to people familiar with the call." 
  34. "Saudis: Saudi-Commissioned Report Contests U.S. Finding About Khashoggi’s Killing". February 7, 2019. 
  35. Fahim, Kareem (December 5, 2018). "Turkey issues arrest warrants for allies of Saudi Arabia’s crown prince". 
  36. Enes Can, Muhammed (December 5, 2018). "Turkey: Arrest warrants out for ex-Saudi officials". Anadolu Agency. "The decision of the court came after Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor's Office demanded arrests of Saud al-Qahtani, a top aide to the crown prince, and Ahmed al-Asiri, former deputy intelligence chief, for their alleged involvement in the killing." 
  37. "Saudis: No extradition of suspects to Turkey". Jiji Press. December 10, 2018. 
  38. "Named as a key Saudi suspect in Khashoggi killing, former top royal adviser drops out of sight". Retrieved 7 January 2019. 
  39. "Khashoggi case: Saudi refuses to confirm Qahtani's whereabouts". 8 January 2019. 
  40. McKernan, Bethan; agencies (2019-12-23). "Saudi Arabia sentences five to death for murder of Jamal Khashoggi" (in en-GB). The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. 
  41. Jamal Khashoggi: Saudis sentence five to death for journalist's murder, Frank Gardener, 23 December 2019, BBC
  42. Kirchgaessner, Stephanie; Hopkins, Nick (March 5, 2019). "Rumours grow of rift between Saudi king and crown prince". 
  43. "Guardian told it was target of Saudi hacking unit after Khashoggi killing". June 19, 2019. 
  45. Ferrante, Anthony J. (November 2019). "Project Cato". FTI Consulting. 
  48. UN experts call for investigation into allegations that Saudi Crown Prince involved in hacking of Jeff Bezos’ phone
  50. iyad_elbaghdadi (August 27, 2019). "RIP @saudq1978". 
  51. Carey, Glen (September 12, 2019). "Mystery Surrounds Saudi Crown Prince's Enforcer in Year Since Khashoggi Death". Bloomberg News. 

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