An American citizen was arrested under the Saudi counterterrorism law this morning in Riyadh and accused of “defaming the reputation of the state or the king” after refusing an offer from a Saudi prince to trade his wife for a herd of 45 camels.
59-year old Karim Najibullah, a Ford Motor Company executive from Dearborn in Michigan, and his 27-year old Saudi wife Aliyah, spent the last two weeks visiting her family in the city of Abha, located in the south-western part of the kingdom.
On Wednesday, the couple was invited to a wedding reception where several members of the royal family were also present, including Prince Khalid bin Abdullah Al Saud, a famous horse and camel breeder with a herd including some rare specimens worths over 2 million riyals ($533,300) each.
During the reception, Prince Khalid attempted to negotiate the purchase of Mr. Najibullah’s wife by offering several of his prized animals, but the American repeatedly declined the prince’s offers.
When the couple attempted to take their plane back to U.S. this morning, they were arrested by the Saudi police. Mr. Najibullah was taken into police custody, while the whereabouts of his wife remain unknown.
The Minister of Justice and President of Supreme Judicial Council, Sheikh Walid bin Mohammed Al-Samaani, justified the arrest and called for an exemplary sentence against Mr. Najibullah.
“The Prince was extremely generous, offering 45 camels worth at least 30 million riyals ($8 million) for a woman that was hardly worth a quarter of that.”
Refusing any demand from a member of the royal family is a serious crime for Saudi citizens, but only 7 Americans have ever been sentenced for such crimes. According to Sheikh Al-Samaani, the accused didn’t simply refuse, but “insulted and defamed the prince and the kingdom”
“Not only did he have the arrogance to rudely decline, but he didn’t even thank the prince for his benevolence and generosity. This is an insult to the crown.”
Mr. Najibullah faces some extremely serious accusations and could be sentenced to harsh corporal punishment, including public lashings, lengthy jail terms, and even death.
The U.S. State Department confirmed that an envoy has been dispatched to Riyadh to attempt to negotiate his liberation, but did not give more details.