By Louis Charbonneau
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - A U.N. Security Council committee has removed Saudi dissident Saad al-Faqih and his Movement for Islamic Reform in Arabia (MIRA) from the U.N. al Qaeda sanctions list, Germany's U.N. envoy confirmed on Monday.
Reuters reported on Sunday that the decision to de-list Faqih came after the 15-nation council's al Qaeda sanctions committee failed to reach a consensus to override the al Qaeda-sanctions-list ombudsman, who had recommended removing Faqih from the U.N. blacklist.
"After thorough consideration by the Committee the entries in the Al Qaeda Sanctions List related to Mr. Saad Rashed Mohammed al-Faqih and (his group) were removed from the Al Qaeda Sanctions List today," German U.N. Ambassador Peter Wittig said in a statement.
"The key question the Committee has to consider is whether there is sufficient information to provide a reasonable and credible basis for concluding that an individual, group, undertaking, or entity is associated with al Qaeda," said Wittig, who chairs the al Qaeda sanctions committee.
A U.N. diplomat told Reuters on condition of anonymity that Faqih "may not be a saint but he doesn't belong on this list."
Faqih's and his group's removal from the list took effect at midnight on Monday, diplomats said.
Faqih told Reuters in London it had been "a laborious battle" to get him off the list.
"All that has happened in the last eight years is that an innocent, peaceful activist, acting within the law, has been a victim of a conspiracy by tyrants in the Gulf supported by superpowers," he said.
Formerly a professor of medicine at a Saudi university, the exiled dissident has long insisted that he and his group are committed to peace. Faqih is an outspoken critic of the Saudi leadership.
Prior to Faqih's de-listing, there were 252 individuals and 69 entities or groups on the U.N. al Qaeda sanctions list, including Faqih. All individuals on the list are subject to asset freezes and an international travel ban.
Britain, Faqih's current host, was one of only four council members that supported the recommendation of the al Qaeda sanctions committee ombudsman, Kimberly Prost of Canada, that Faqih be taken off the blacklist, despite strong objections from Riyadh, diplomats said on condition of anonymity.
Council diplomats said the United States was among the 11 council members that supported the Saudis and opposed taking Faqih off the blacklist. A spokesman for Saudi Arabia's U.N. mission did not respond to a request for comment.
The other three countries supporting Prost's recommendation for removal from the al Qaeda blacklist, the envoys said, were Germany, South Africa and Guatemala.
(Additional reporting by William Maclean in London; Editing by Will Dunham)