Did Saudi Arabia Help Saudi Hit-and-Run Offender Flee Justice in the US?

U.S. officials suspect their Saudi counterparts of illegally preventing Abdulrahman Sameer Noorah, along with several other Saudi nationals, from prosecution in the U.S. justice system by spiriting him out of the country. If true, this is yet another reason for the U.S. to disavow its special relationship with Saudi Arabia.
Did Saudi Arabia Help Saudi Hit-and-Run Offender Flee Justice in the US
Photo credit: Rebeca Bagdocimo/The Oregonian via AP

Saudi national Abdulrahman Sameer Noorah fled the U.S. in the summer of 2017 after having been accused of the hit-and-run killing of a 15-year-old girl in August 2016.

Noorah, himself only 21 at the time, was allegedly driving a gold Lexus when he sped through a crossing at around 60mph, hitting and killing high school sophomore Fallon Smart. During his time in Oregon, Noorah had received 18 traffic parking and traffic citations and at the time of the hit-and-run was driving on a suspended license. Since 2014, he had been living in Portland on a student scholarship, receiving a monthly stipend of $1,800 from the Saudi government.

Noorah was arrested by Multnomah County officers when he later returned to the scene of the crime.

Noorah was arrested by Multnomah County officers when he later returned to the scene of the crime. He faced charges of first-degree manslaughter, which carries a minimum sentence of 10 years in prison, as well as hit-and-run, reckless endangerment, and reckless driving charges. Local law-enforcement recommended that he not be released from custody. However, the court ruled that Noorah could be released on bail as long as his passport was removed and he wore a GPS tracker on his ankle.

Shortly thereafter, the Saudi Consulate paid Noorah’s $100,000 bail, a figure not particularly high in comparison with other bail sums the Saudi government has paid. Following his release, Noorah continued to attend his classes at Portland Community College.

On June 10, 2017, two weeks before he was due to stand trial, Noorah removed his tracking device and disappeared. Eye witnesses say he was picked up that day from campus by a black car and disappeared for the next year and a half.

Saudi authorities only informed their U.S. counterparts in December 2018 that Noorah had returned to Saudi Arabia on June 17, 2017, one week after his disappearance. While they declined to provide further details, it has emerged that Saudi officials may have helped him obtain an illegal passport.

According to federal officials, Noorah likely escaped the U.S. on board a private plane: no trace of the Saudi national was found during investigators’ search of domestic and international commercial flights. “We’re doing everything we can to get him back,” said U.S. Marshall Eric Wahlstrom, based in Oregon.

However, the U.S. government has since revealed that it “will not intervene” in the case.

Noorah may not be the only Saudi national who has escaped U.S. justice with Saudi help. As many as five privileged Saudi nationals accused of crimes in the state of Oregon alone may have escaped this way.

Saudi Arabia’s ability to pull off such outrageous perversions of justice in violation of both U.S. domestic law and international law is indicative of its excessive influence in the U.S., emanating ostensibly from the U.S. policy of promoting “stability in the Middle East.” This aspiration, while laudable in itself, in practice essentially boils down to protecting lucrative deals involving oil and arms, and the enormous levels of investment both Saudi Arabia and the U.S. have made in each other’s economies.

With the world’s second largest oil reserves, Saudi Arabia’s natural resources (mainly crude oil) are valued at around $34 trillion.

With the world’s second largest oil reserves, Saudi Arabia’s natural resources (mainly crude oil) are valued at around $34 trillion. In 2017, the U.S. concluded a weapons deal with the kingdom worth $350 billion over 10 years, including $100 billion that took immediate effect.

The power of the Saudi regime over U.S. policy was in plain view last year, after the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul at the hands of Saudi officials, according to the CIA.

While the U.S. Senate condemned the Saudi government for the incident and some members of Congress called for sanctions, the Trump administration did nothing, effectively giving the Saudis–and every other dictatorial regime–a green light. President Trump admitted openly that the administration’s reaction was tempered by the levels of arms sales to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA). He even cited a non-existent $450 million arms deal in his comments on the Khashoggi murder.

“When I went there, they committed . . . the biggest purchase in the history of this country,” Trump said. “Saudi Arabia has been a great ally of ours. That’s why this is so sad.”

Following the Khashoggi killing, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo took what appeared to be a friendly diplomatic visit to KSA. On his return, Pompeo spoke of being assured that the Saudis were properly investigating the Khashoggi case and stressed the U.S.’ “long strategic relationship” with the kingdom.

Rachael Bronson, author of “Thicker Than Oil: America’s Uneasy Partnership with Saudi Arabiaexplains the role played by Saudi money in the U.S.: “They invest in long term vehicles, they invest in real estate, tech companies . . . they are investing in institutions [such as universities and think tanks], in art museums . . . . They have a lot of money to spread around.”

In light of this, it is hardly surprising that Saudi Arabia can act in ways that the U.S. would not permit other states to act.

In light of this, it is hardly surprising that Saudi Arabia can act in ways that the U.S. would not permit other states to act. The tragic death of Fallon Smart at the hands of Abdulrahman Sameer Noorah, who will now most likely never be held accountable for the crime, is just the latest in a long line of examples of Saudi interference in U.S. internal affairs, something the Saudis continually deplore and say they will “not tolerate” by other countries. Case in point: Saudi Arabia’s dramatic reaction to the Canadian foreign minister’s remark calling for the release of a human rights activist, was to expel the Canadian ambassador, withdraw the Saudi ambassador from Canada, and freeze new business deals and investment with Canada.

The reality is that Noorah and others like him will not be brought to justice while the intimate, special, but toxic relationship between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia remains as is.