Saudi activists and dissidents have disputed an official narrative alleging that a Saudi citizen who refused government orders to give up his home to make way for a new mega-project, was killed after he shot at security forces.
In a report published by Saudi TV on Wednesday, Saudi authorities said that Abdul Rahim Ahmad al-Hwaiti from Tabuk province was a “wanted terrorist” that had been killed in a shootout with security forces.
“He started shooting at the security forces from on top of a building,” said the report.
“When he refused to hand himself over and continued shooting and throwing Molotov cocktails at the security forces, the situation had to be dealt with.
“This led to his death and the injury of two security forces,” said the report.
Hwaiti, a Saudi citizen from the town of Khraybah in the northwest Red Sea region of the country, had published a video of himself on Monday saying that he and other citizens were being pressured by the government to give up their properties and accept financial compensation.
Al-Hwaiti hails from the powerful al-Huwaitat tribe who are based in three countries: Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and the Sinai in Egypt. The al-Huwaitat have resided in the region for more than 800 years, predating the Saudi state itself by many centuries over.
“Anyone who refuses to leave the area would be arrested by government agents”, he said in the video uploaded on Youtube on Monday. He called the government’s move “forced displacement”.
“This is my home,” he said, adding he would not move elsewhere in Saudi Arabia because he considers his tribal area his “own homeland”.
Al-Hwaiti said residents of the area do not want to be uprooted but are now living in fear because of what security forces might do to them.
“Nine people from my area have been arrested so far and I am sure I will be next – or even killed,” he said in one video. “I am sure if they kill me they would put weapons around my ody and claim I was a terrorist.”
The report published by Saudi TV said that several guns and other weapons had been found in Hwaiti’s home after he was killed.
But Saudi activists said that the narrative was flawed and that al-Hwaiti was shot dead after recording a video documenting security forces storming his property to make way for a Red Sea development mega-project.
Known as NEOM, the development will be close to the size of Belgium, and is to become a hub for “tourism, innovation and technology” as part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS)’s Vision 2030 to transform Saudi Arabia and diversify its oil-based economy.
London-based Saudi dissident Saad al-Faqih disputed the official narrative in a video published on Thursday, saying that anyone who believed report was “completely ignorant and backward.”
“There’s no way that someone who has been following this story can possibly believe the authorities’ narrative,” he said.
In a video published days before, Faqih called on other Saudis to support the Hwaiti tribe in resisting government efforts to push them out of their homes.
“What is happening to the Hwaitats is a crime. Everyone who is taking part in this, whether directly or indirectly, is a criminal,” he said in a video on Monday.
Aliaa Abutayah, a London-based Saudi political activist who hails from the city of told Al Jazeera on Wednesday that she had received several videos – including one showing the shooting of al-Hwaiti by Saudi security forces – from witnesses and posted them on her Twitter account.
Abutayah’s account has since been deactivated. She alleged that she has received death threats from Saudi agents because of her opposition to the government.
Activists: Saudi forces kill man who refused to give up property