Mohamad Salem was taken into custody on November 1 and has been transferred to a maximum-security facility typically used for high-profile political prisoners and suspected terrorists, Abdallah Moughni said by phone from the US state of Michigan, where Salem lives.
He is one of several Americans who have recently run afoul of Saudi authorities, amid heightened tensions between the two longtime partners over global oil supply.
Salem, a 63-year-old of Yemeni origin, travelled to Saudi Arabia with two of his sons to perform the umrah pilgrimage at the Grand Mosque in Mecca, Islam’s holiest site, said Moughni, who is also the family’s spokesman.
While in line, he got into a verbal altercation with security officials who separated him from his sons.
Later, two men approached him, saying they were from Libya and asking what happened.
“At this point, Mohamad was livid, he was furious. He just let it out. He said, ‘If it was not for Mecca and Medina, we would burn this country to the ground,'” said Moughni, who confirmed details of the incident by speaking to Salem’s sons.
The two men turned out to be undercover Saudi agents, and Salem was detained, Moughni said.
Saudi officials and the US embassy in Riyadh did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Moughni said the embassy had provided Salem’s family with a list of possible lawyers but so far none had agreed to take the case.
Salem’s relatives do not know whether he has been charged.
They have grown increasingly concerned for his welfare since Salem was transferred to Dhahban Central Prison, where Amnesty International has previously documented allegations of torture via electrocution and flogging.
Moughni said it was “outrageous” to think Salem deserved harsh treatment.
“This just isn’t one of those cases where they got a big fish, (or) they caught somebody who committed an actual crime,” Moughni said.
“What he said was not a reflection of what he was going to act upon. He was heated.”