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 from the U.N. al Qaeda sanctions list, Germany's U.N. envoy confirmed on Monday.
The move came despite Saudi Arabia's opposition and U.S. concerns about Faqih, U.N. diplomats told Reuters.
Reuters reported on Sunday that the decision to delist Faqih came after the 15-nation council's al Qaeda sanctions committee failed to reach a consensus to override the ombudsman of the al Qaeda sanctions list, who recommended removing Faqih.
"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 ... today," Germany's 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.
Faqih "may not be a saint but he doesn't belong on this list," a U.N. diplomat told Reuters on condition of anonymity.
Faqih's and his group's removal from the list took effect at midnight (0400 GMT) on Monday, diplomats said.
Faqih, an outspoken critic of the Saudi leadership, told Reuters in London it had been "a laborious battle" to get 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.
U.S. SANCTIONS MAINTAINED
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland acknowledged that the U.N. sanctions committee had been unable to reach consensus on keeping Faqih on the list and had dropped him despite U.S. concerns.
"That doesn't change the fact that U.S. sanctions on him have been maintained. Today's action has no effect on the way that we deal with him," Nuland said.
"This has gone forward in a U.N. context but we haven't change dour own view with regard to him. We did have some concerns about the delisting."
A former professor of medicine at a Saudi university, Faqih has long insisted that he and his group are committed to peace.
Before his delisting, there were 252 individuals and 69 entities or groups on the U.N. al Qaeda sanctions list. All individuals on the list are subject to asset freezes and an international travel ban.
Britain, Faqih's host, was one of only four council members to support 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 list.
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 Faqih's removal from the blacklist were Germany, South Africa and Guatemala, diplomats said.
(Additional reporting by Andrew Quinn in Washington and William Maclean in London. Editing by Will Dunham and Christopher Wilson)