INTO THIN AIR
Five Saudi Students Accused of Rape, Murder, Hit and Runs, Have Fled Oregon Before Trial
On five occasions, privileged young Saudi men studying in the state of Oregon have been spirited out of the country on fake passports and private planes before their trials.
New legislation introduced by Oregon senators aims to punish Saudi Arabia following shocking allegations that the kingdom has whisked as many as five young men facing criminal charges, ranging from rape to murder, out of the country from that state alone.
Speaking publicly for the first time Thursday, the parents of Fallon Smart, a 15-year-old victim of a hit and run by Saudi student Abdulrahman Sameer Noorah in 2016, said they were horrified to learn their daughter’s alleged assailant had disappeared two weeks before his trial with the help of the Saudi government. Noorah was charged with manslaughter, felony hit-and-run, and reckless driving in the teen’s death. He faced a minimum prison sentence of 10 years.
Federal investigators confirmed to the Oregonian/Oregon Live that a private lawyer hired by the Saudi consulate posted $100,000 of a $1 million bail for the 21-year-old and apparently arranged for a dark SUV to pick him up shortly after he left jail. His severed electronic bracelet was found at a nearby gravel yard. Authorities believe he was given a forged passport, since his was sequestered by Oregon authorities, and flown back to Saudi Arabia on a private jet. He was seen back in his home country a week after he disappeared.
“It’s like the laws of physics go out the door,” Fallon’s mother, Fawn Lengvenis, told Oregon Live on Thursday. “And it all starts from the beginning again.”
The teen victim’s father, Seth Smart, said he cannot help obsessing about his daughter’s killer. “The imagination runs wild,” he said. “Is he just leading his normal life somewhere? Does he even think about it? Does he even care?”
The cases of Saudi students eluding Oregon justice are hauntingly familiar. In 2014, Abdulaziz Al Duways was arrested on accusations that he drugged and raped a classmate in Monmouth, Oregon. He, too, disappeared after the Saudi consulate helped secure bail. Four of the young men who vanished have been represented by the same attorney, Ginger Mooney, according to local court documents.
The new legislation introduced by Oregon Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden would allow the federal government to actively investigate alleged disappearances and make it more difficult for foreign nationals to be granted bail arranged by consulates.
“When anyone within our nation commits a crime, they need to be held accountable—especially when that crime results in the death of an innocent teenager,” Sen. Merkley said in a statement “Saudi Arabia’s blatant disrespect for international norms cannot be allowed to stand. We should all be able to agree that any nation that helps their citizens escape from the law needs to be held fully accountable.”
Around 1,000 of an estimated 60,000 Saudi students currently studying in the United States live in Oregon, according to a recent report in Gulf News, which estimates that only 8,272 are self-sponsored. The rest are on stipends provided by the Saudi kingdom. Disappearances of Saudi nationals facing criminal justice have also been reported in Ohio and California as well as Canada.