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Saudi forces ‘told to kill’ to clear land for The Line

Plans to build a £400 billion futuristic eco-metropolis promised an epicentre of sustainability, productivity, seamless living, and leisure for nine million people. But a whistle-blower testimony for the BBC has just uncovered the grim reality of the project, which involves human rights abuses and extrajudicial murder.

Remember The Line?

Part of the NEOM project, it takes a traditional city and structurally reimagines it to be more efficient, consolidating its overall footprint in order to protect its impact on nature (as we reported in 2022).

Running 170 kilometres from the ocean and further into the sand, plans revealed that it would be constructed of 500-metre-high mirrored walls built parallel to one another.

It also promised to diversify Saudi Arabia’s economy away from oil and run on 100% renewable energy, making it (by 2030) an epicentre of ‘sustainability, productivity, seamless living, and leisure for nine million people.’

‘No roads, cars, or emissions, people’s health and wellbeing will be prioritised over transportation and infrastructure, unlike traditional cities,’ continues the description on NEOM’s website.

‘The ideal climate all-year-round will ensure that residents can enjoy the surrounding nature. Residents will also have access to all daily essentials within a five-minute walk, in addition to high-speed rail – with an end-to-end transit of 20 minutes.’

When it was first announced, The Line attracted negative attention for its contribution to biodiversity loss and the choice of its location, as the desert-end of it is home to several local tribes who initially protested against making way for the futuristic eco-metropolis.

The criticism towards the latter was in response to Saudi King Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) calling the project ‘his pyramids,’ forcing the community to relocate and adding to Saudi Arabia’s longstanding reputation as a hot spot for human rights abuses.

So far, over 6,000 people have been displaced as a result of the early stages of construction, though human rights group ALQST estimates the numbers to be far worse. Today, the reality is even darker.

According to an ex-intelligence officer called Rabih Alenezi (he currently resides in the UK after seeking asylum), who spoke to the BBC, Saudi authorities have permitted the use of ‘lethal force’ to clear space for The Line, which is being developed by dozens of Western companies.

Lifting the lid on the project’s sinister side, the whistle-blower’s testimony outlines that he was ordered to evict villagers from the Gulf state, one of whom was shot dead for refusing to allow a land registry committee to value his property.

Satellite images obtained by the BBC show the destruction in the village of Sharma, where many of the homes, schools, and hospitals that made up the town have been completely wiped out since building began.

Alenezi says that before he fled the country he was asked to enact a clearance order for an area 4.5km south of The Line, which is mostly occupied by the Huwaitat tribe and has been for generations.

He dodged the mission on invented medical grounds, he told the BBC, but it nevertheless went ahead.

Issued in 2020, the clearance order branded the Huwaitat tribe as ‘rebels’ and warned that ‘whoever resists eviction should be killed.’

At least 47 other villagers were detained after resisting evictions, many of whom were prosecuted on terror-related charges, according to the UN. Of those, 40 remain in detention, five of whom are on death row, ALQST says.

Saudi authorities claim that those asked to move have been offered compensation, but ALQST reports that the figures paid out have been substantially less than those initially pledged.

‘NEOM is the centrepiece of Mohamed Bin Salman’s ideas,’ says Alenezi.

‘That’s why he was so brutal in dealing with the Huwaitat. He will let nothing stand in the way. I started to become more worried about what I might be asked to do to my own people.’

The future of The Line is now, understandably, in jeopardy.