Saudi officials say controversial columnist Hazma Kashgari received financial and logistical support in his flight from Saudi Arabia amid furor over a series of 'blasphemous' tweets he made last week.
"He was given material and logistic assistance from people who shared his beliefs and objectives," Khalid Al Shayea, the secretary general of the International Organization for defending the Prophet, the Saudi new site Sabq on Tuesday.
"They prepared his departure from Saudi Arabia before the order to arrest him was issued and worked out his movements to Jordan, the UAE and Malaysia on his way to New Zealand where he would seek political asylum," he added.
The "accomplices" welcomed Kashgari and hid him in an undisclosed place in Malaysia while they worked on politicizing his case, Al Shayea said.
Kashgari, 23, fled to Malaysia after calls for him to be tried for apostasy – which is punishable by beheading in Saudi Arabia – from a coalition of hardliner clerics and their supporters.
He was reportedly checking out of the country aboard the 8:50 am flight to New Zealand on Monday when he was detained pursuant to a royal arrest decree from Riyadh – and returned to Saudi Arabia.
Saudi King Abdul Aziz issued the arrest warrant for Kashgari for "for crossing red lines and denigrating religious beliefs in God and His Prophet."
"People are put on trial for offending other people, and the matter is far more critical when there is a profanation of God or His Prophet," King Abdul Aziz explained in the instructions to the interior minister to arrest Kashgari.
Last week, Kashgari sent out a series of tweets that reportedly addressed the Prophet Mohammad as an equal and expressed discomfort with some of his teachings.
“On your birthday, I will say that I have loved the rebel in you, that you’ve always been a source of inspiration to me, and that I do not like the halos of divinity around you. I shall not pray for you,” he wrote in one tweet.
“On your birthday, I find you wherever I turn. I will say that I have loved aspects of you, hated others, and could not understand many more,” he wrote in a second.
“On your birthday, I shall not bow to you. I shall not kiss your hand. Rather, I shall shake it as equals do, and smile at you as you smile at me. I shall speak to you as a friend, no more,” he concluded in a third.
Kashgari recanted and deleted his posts amid the firestorm they caused, but that was insufficient to stem to tide of outrage from religious authorities in Saudi Arabia.
Prosecutors in Jedda where the charges against Kashgari were filed are also probing those who expressed support for him online, and may face similar charges..
Observers familiar with the oil-rich kingdom and key-Western ally say those who aided him in fleeing the country will almost certainly be charged alonside him.
"Those who supported the contents of Kashgari's tweets are considered criminal exactly like him," Khaled Abu Rashid, a lawyer and a legal consultant, told the Saudi daily Arab News.
"The sentence to be passed on Kahgari should be imposed on his supporters too," he said.