Question regarding Saudi kidnappings and assassinations


I’ve always wondered how Saudi individuals taking part in kidnapping/assassinations in. Europe(Switzerland) or Turkey manage to get through customs with their victims to bring them back to Saudi Arabia. Do these individuals have special privileges when they pass through airport customs?

I look forward to your feedback.

Leonid Pushkin: Put him on the next plane to Moscow…
General Georgi Koskov: Oh, thank you General, thank you so much…
Leonid Pushkin: …in the diplomatic bag.

I’ve always assumed that diplomats (and ‘diplomats’) have special boarding procedures that allow them to bypass Customs. In any case, don’t you clear Customs when you arrive at your destination country? If so, then I don’t see that there would be a problem.

That problem is not unique to Saudi kidnappings.

Turkey‘s deputy prime minister Bekir Bozdag said in April 2018 that Turkey had arrested 80 persons accused with being connected to the Gülen movement in 18 countries. In some (such as Kosovo where Tuerkey has a lot of influence) this has been with the cooperation of elements of the government (Kosovo‘s premier was blindsided, though). In others this seems to have been by straight kidnapping. A plot in Switzerland to kidnap a dual Swiss/Turkish citizen was foiled in 2016.

In July 2017 Vietnam kidnapped refugee Thrinh Xuan Thanh from Berlin.

When Nigeria (with Israeli help) tried to abduct a kidnapped former politician, they put him in a large crate marked as a diplomatic bag.

Many countries have exit controls. Much of Europe, including Switzerland, is required to have them to be in the Schengen area.

You really think exit controls will stop the intelligence agency of a nation state?

Most western countries as I recall don’t stop people getting on planes, don’t have exit controls. The type of country that does probably can be persuaded to look the other way. If not, as others mentioned, there’s diplomatic “bags”. A book I have on the Canadian security service (equivalent on NSA) written by a disgruntled ex-member, mentions in the 1980’s sending large amounts of electronics to embassies as diplomatic baggage. So it’s not unusual to ship bulk items. However, if something body-sized were shipped from the Saudi embassy the Turks certainly would have mentioned it. And there’s a limited timeline to do so before refrigeration becomes an issue.

For the CIA and such, I assume the convenience of American airbases around Europe simplifies the issue of customs control. However, most private jets seem to have a different protocol than customs lineups at regular airports. Something I read about “lifestyles of the rich and famous” talked about an expediter for the rich guy, collecting passports and doing the interaction with the customs officer, who just glanced at the passengers.

First of all, it appears that at least one of the Saudis who went to Turkey was traveling on a diplomatic passport. To enter a country as a diplomat, the host country is entitled to prior approval of that diplomat arriving – think of it like a visa. (If you were a diplomatic passport holder, you can’t just show up in any random foreign country and force your way in because you hold a black passport.)

Diplomatic officials are entitled under the Vienna Convention to transport material free from interference from the host nation. This is generally to protect communications and papers, but the contents of the diplomatic bag can include physical items intended for official use. For example, if the U.S. Embassy in Beijing needs computers for the staff, they would be taken in a diplomatic bag (well, crate) so that the Chinese intelligence services operating under the guise of customs inspectors have no means to install bugs or malware or whatever. If I recall correctly, construction materials for the U.S. Embassy in Moscow were taken in under diplomatic seal, to include things like drywall and steel and so on.

There are procedures in every country that govern the paperwork needed to transport diplomatic pouches, but yeah, host nations are prohibited from inspecting such packages as long as rather minimal procedures are followed.

I wonder how much of that is being pre-cleared? I took a cruise that stopped in St. Petersburg Russia. I went on tours and did show my passport to an official who compared the photo to me in person. I sort of remember some cruise ship personal saying that that Russian officials came on board and checked the passports of people on the ship. We certainly gave our passport information to the cruise company weeks in advance of the cruise.

Now that I have Global Entry returning to the US does not involve showing my passport to a customs person. I show it to the Kiosk and it takes my fingerprints.

Diplomatic ‘bags’ can range from suitcases to shipping container. The exterior of the bag can be examined. It can be listened to. It can be x-rayed. The entire bag can be refused and returned (unopened) to the sending country.

I vaguely recall reading that story of the private jets and someone not going through passport control. My recollection was that based on the way the story was written, it could have been that an expeditor was on scene to handle passport control, as opposed to passport control not applying to the private jet.

I myself have had several trips where I left a commercial plane, was escorted to a VIP lounge, and an expeditor would take my passport, leave for 10 minutes, and return with the passport, after which I simply went to a car where my bags were waiting. I still needed the passport to get in the country, even though I didn’t actually meet with an immigration officer.

Whenever I went on a private jet my passport was taken by the crew when I boarded and it was stamped when I saw it at the hotel in London or Dubai (I always checked).

ETA: I would give it typically to the driver who took me to the airfield and I would next see it at the hotel, never saw a customs or immigration officer, it was like a domestic flight in that respect.

one of them just died in a “car accident” I guess they feared he might have loose lips.

There was the Dikko kidnapping:

That incident involved a fugitive escaping the Nigerian authorities who employed the Israeli expertise to get him back. I guess the victim was lucky one of the abductors was an anaethestist, they wanted him alive.

Thanks Ravenman. Can you verify if this comment from a blog is correct?
do generic diplomats still benefit

Yes and no. Individuals travelling on diplomatic passports are still required to go through security measures, including metal detectors, etc. Their bags must also go through security as usual. The only caveat is that you should not open the luggage to search it. The reason they’re not supposed to open your baggage is due to the fact that you may be carrying materials covered by diplomatic immunity (e.g. files, computers, briefing materials, etc.) Usually, if you’re carrying something really sensitive then you have documentation that will allow you to carry that item(s) through security with no checks, but the individual is still checked. For example, last summer I had to carry a bunch of diplomatic bags on a flight and the bags were not scanned, but I was.

Weren’t the Flynns pere and fils being investigated for a plot to kidnap Gulen himself?

Again, no outbound customs clearance in the USA. So you could kidnap someone, put them on a private jet, and as long as you can take care of things at the other end, no problem. Mind you, the perpetrators would face criminal charges in the USA when the details came out, but considering that Gollum’s Turkish thug bodyguards had no problem beating up protesters in Washington in full view of news cameras, I suspect collecting a number one threat would not bother them. The trick would be proving a US resident was also a conspirator.

I assume there are private jets for rent that can reach Turkey from eastern USA. Not sure if a customs inspection is mandatory if a private jet stops only for refueling, say, in Iceland or Luxembourg.