Saudi Twitter account axed after seeming to threaten 9/11-style attack on Canada

Pro-government account apologizes for photo of plane flying toward Toronto skyline, says it was intended to symbolize Canadian envoy’s return after expulsion

A tweet by a pro-government Saudi account on August 6, 2018 (Twitter photo)
A tweet by a pro-government Saudi account on August 6, 2018 (Twitter photo)

Amid an escalating spat between Canada and Saudi Arabia and Riyadh’s expulsion of Ottawa’s ambassador, a Saudi pro-government Twitter account on Monday tweeted an image of a passenger plane flying towards Toronto skyscrapers with an ominous warning against interfering in the kingdom’s affairs.

“Sticking one’s nose where it doesn’t belong!” the graphic read. “As the Arabic saying goes: He who interferes with what doesn’t concern him finds what doesn’t please him.”

The tweet sparked immediate outrage on social media, where users were scandalized by the apparent threat of a repeat of the 9/11 terror attacks (15 of the 19 hijackers in the 2001 attacks were Saudi citizens).

The account @Infographic_ksa which published the offending tweet quickly removed it, apologized and claimed the plane was intended to symbolize the Canadian ambassador’s return home. Shortly afterwards the account itself was deleted at the government’s orders, with Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Media saying it was investigating its owner.

The account described itself as a non-proft group of Saudi youth. It has in the past shared mostly pro-Saudi propaganda, and was widely believed to be a mouthpiece for the government. Riyadh’s Al Arabiya TV has described it as an official government account.

On Monday Saudi Arabia expelled the Canadian ambassador and froze “all new business” with Ottawa over its criticism of the ultraconservative kingdom’s arrest of women’s rights activists — yet another warning to the West reflecting Riyadh’s newly assertive foreign policy.

The sudden and unexpected dispute bore the hallmarks of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s 32-year-old future leader, whose recent foreign policy exploits include the war in Yemen, the boycott of Qatar and Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s surprise resignation broadcast during a visit to the kingdom. Hariri later rescinded the resignation, widely believed to be orchestrated by Riyadh, and returned to Beirut.

Analysts say the dispute between Riyadh and Ottawa shows Saudi Arabia won’t accept any outside criticism and will continue flexing its muscles abroad, especially as the kingdom enjoys a closer relationship with President Donald Trump.

“This message is obviously not just being sent to Ottawa,” said Giorgio Cafiero, the CEO of Gulf State Analytics, a Washington-based risk consultancy. “It’s a message to countries across Europe and across the rest of the world that criticism of Saudi Arabia has consequences.”

The Saudi Foreign Ministry made the announcement early Monday, giving Ambassador Dennis Horak 24 hours to leave the kingdom. It wasn’t immediately clear if he was in the kingdom. Saudi Arabia said it would recall its ambassador to Canada as well.

Saudi state television later reported that the Education Ministry was coming up with an “urgent plan” to move thousands of Saudi scholarship students out of Canadian schools to take classes in other countries. The Saudi state airline, Saudia, said in a statement on its official Twitter account that it would suspend all flights to Toronto starting next Monday, August 13.

Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates have publicly backed Saudi Arabia in the dispute.

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