Saudi crown prince jokes about kidnapping Lebanese leader

Saudi crown prince jokes about kidnapping Lebanese leader
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Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman joked Wednesday about Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri getting kidnapped while in Riyadh, an apparent reference to Saudi Arabia’s reported detention of Hariri last year.

"I just want to conclude with one thing: Prime Minister Saad is going to be here for two days, so please, no ideas that he is kidnapped,” Crown Prince Mohammed said at the end of a panel with Hariri and the crown prince of Bahrain.

After the joke at Saudi Arabia’s Future Investment Initiative, Hariri and Crown Prince Mohammed laughed and shook hands.

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In November 2017, Hariri was reportedly forcibly detained in Saudi Arabia as part of the crown prince’s efforts to pressure Lebanon on its relationship with Iran and Hezbollah.

While in Saudi Arabia, Hariri tendered his resignation as prime minister via a televised message. Weeks later, he returned to Lebanon and withdrew his resignation.

Crown Prince Mohammed’s joke about the Hariri crisis comes amid ongoing uproar over the death of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Earlier in the panel, the crown prince made his first public comments about the issue, saying Khashoggi’s death at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul is a “heinous crime.”

Critics say the bizarre episode with Hariri was early evidence of Crown Prince Mohammed’s strong-arm tactics, which have become even more apparent after Khashoggi’s killing.

The Saudi government maintains that Khashoggi was killed during a physical altercation during an unapproved operation to return him to Saudi Arabia.

Regional experts and U.S. lawmakers are skeptical any operation would have been carried out without the approval of Crown Prince Mohammed, Saudi Arabia’s day-to-day leader and heir to the throne.

Turkish officials say Khashoggi was tortured, killed and dismembered by a 15-person Saudi hit squad that included a forensic doctor wielding a bone saw.