Yemen activist Karman says Saudi Arabia has offered to pay to keep her in UAE

Tawakul Karman, leader of the Yemeni women’s rights movement, said that Saudi Arabia had offered to build a school for her in Bahrain to lure her back to the kingdom as the latest twist in a high-profile story that has shaken Turkey and Saudi Arabia’s relationship.

Karman, the founder of the anti-slavery group Alawsat, said she had received “escorted” flights to her home in the United Arab Emirates after claiming she was abducted from the Saudi consulate.

“I’ve been escorted to my home in the UAE,” Karman told CNN via WhatsApp, adding that Saudi officials had been too embarrassed to talk.

Saudi Arabia has confirmed that it holds Karman in custody, and that her passport has been seized. “Saudi Arabian authorities were acting on information provided by an external source to the border security services in connection with a case against the person Tawakul Karman,” the official Saudi Press Agency said.

Saudi Arabia’s decision to detain Karman followed a leaked video that appeared to show her turning back from the Saudi consulate and refusing to come out after staff at the building asked her to leave.

Karman told CNN on Sunday that Saudi authorities had told her she had been detained “for the duration of my stay.”

The Yemen activist has been critical of Saudi Arabia in recent months, holding rallies to protest the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Her detention, and the international outcry it sparked, has further plunged Saudi Arabia into a crisis.

Karman’s Saudi allies and government officials have dismissed as “baseless” the allegations that she has been held and denied any involvement in the incident.

But Karman told CNN she felt extremely unsafe, saying that she had been “very well received” in Turkey. “It’s for their own security,” she said of the decision to detain her.


Turkish officials have been investigating for days whether Saudi officials attempted to lure Karman back to the kingdom.

According to Turkish officials, messages were sent to her. Karman described them as “misinterpreted messages.”

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said late on Monday that Karman had admitted to Turkish officials that she was being held in Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs dismissed those claims and said it considers the claims against Karman to be “baseless.”

Speaking on CNN’s “Erin Burnett OutFront,” Cavusoglu said there had been “quite a difference of opinion between Tawakul and Saudi representatives on this case.”

Karman told CNN that some of the messages sent to her in an attempt to lure her to the kingdom had been “very personal and were sent to her boyfriend.”

Karman said “very close relations” between the countries made such efforts acceptable, but warned that the Saudi ambassador’s presence in Turkey was now a concern.

Karman said she was “relieved” to be back in Turkey, saying Turkish authorities had been “quite professional.”

“I’m thinking how the story will play in the beginning of this week,” she said.

‘They fooled me’

The Yemeni rights activist, who was in Turkey as a leading participant of the Women2Drive movement, gained prominence for her criticism of Saudi Arabia. She was the first female in the Arabian Gulf country to drive despite being granted permission by her family.

“I got two offers: to come to Saudi Arabia for some education or for a permanent or second family-life visa,” Karman told CNN.

“They offered to build a school for me in Bahrain,” she added.

Asked what she would tell the Saudi royal family, she said, “they fooled me.”

Karman said she was unsure about what would happen next, but said the aftermath of her detention was “very serious.”

“I have been so scared inside and now I’m being treated well.”

•CNN’s Donna Cole and Lara Kalish contributed to this report.

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