Saudi dissident returns home after more than two years in self-exile

CAIRO (AP) — A US-educated Saudi dissident, who was part of a media campaign against the kingdom’s rulers during two years in self-exile in London, returned to Jeddah, saying he regretted those activities and admitting he had been wrong, Saudi newspapers reported Monday.
Abdul Aziz Ben Sharaf Ben Rajeh Al Shanbari returned on Sunday after more than two years during which he worked with Saad Al Faqih, director of the London-based Movement for Islamic Reform in Arabia. The group has been widely accused of supporting Osama Ben Laden’s Al Qaeda terror network.

“He regretted every minute he spent outside the kingdom working with the misleading movement which deceived some people through the distribution of incorrect and untrue information,” Shanbari’s brother, Abdullah, told the newspapers.

Abdullah said his brother was not arrested or questioned at the airport and that Shanbari decided to return without any pressure from Saudi authorities.

“The return was a personal decision, willingly adopted by myself after I discovered the Movement’s bad aims and that I was walking on the wrong path and that the Movement adopts dirty means to… harm the people and the country,” Shanbari was quoted as saying.

“It is not possible to go into bickering with someone who is in the hands of those whom we consider our enemies,” Faqih told the Associated Press in a telephone interview from London. He did not elaborate, but he referred to the Movement’s website.

“The Movement learned that there has been an understanding between Abdul Aziz Al Shanbari and [King] Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz to accept his demands for his return home,” according to a statement on the site.

Shanbari claims to be a descendant of the Hashemite family which ruled Mecca before it was ousted by the current Saudi family in the 1920s. The group’s statement said Shanbari returned after winning government agreement to release detained family members, restore confiscated property and establish an independent association to regulate their affairs.

“The Movement considers the agreement is in the interest of [Shanbari’s family] and therefore, we have no reservation about [his] return to the land of the two holy shrines [Saudi Arabia] if these demands were met,” the statement said.

After waves of suicide bombings and attacks that began in May 2003 which killed and wounded scores of Saudis and foreigners, the Saudi government tried a more lenient approach with the militants, seeking their surrender or repatriation through amnesties or promises of meeting their demands.

Appeals from religious figures and family members of some of the wanted men calling on the militants to give themselves up were also published in the newspapers.

Faqih temporarily closed down his website early August when the British government announced, after July’s transit bombings in London, it would act against suspected radical Islamic clerics and extremists who preach hatred.

But Faqih told the AP then that his website was closed down “for technical reasons.” Two years ago, Faqih managed to organise a small protest in Riyadh, one of a handful ever recorded in Saudi Arabia. The Saudi government responded by arresting 271 people.

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