Saudi crown prince approved murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi: U.S. intel report

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman approved the 2018 operation to “capture or kill” Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, according to a declassified U.S. intelligence report published Friday. In October 2018, Khashoggi was killed and dismembered inside a Saudi consulate in Turkey, sparking international outrage against Saudi Arabia.

In the report, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) cited bin Salman’s control of decision-making in Saudi Arabia, plus the direct involvement of a key advisor and members of the 35-year-old crown prince’s protective detail, in the operation that killed Khashoggi.

“We assess that Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman approved an operation in Istanbul, Turkey to capture or kill Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi,” the four-page summary of the intelligence community’s findings reads.

“We base this assessment on the Crown Prince’s control of decision-making in the Kingdom since 2017, the direct involvement of a key adviser and members of Muhammad bin Salman’s protective detail in the operation, and the Crown Prince’s support for using violent measures to silence dissidents abroad, including Khashoggi,” the report continues.

“Since 2017, the Crown Prince has had absolute control of the Kingdom’s security and intelligence organizations, making it highly unlikely that Saudi officials would have carried out an operation of this nature without the Crown Prince’s authorization,” the report also said.

The U.S.-based Washington Post contributor Khashoggi, who had criticized the Saudi royal family, entered a Saudi consulate in Turkey on October 2, 2018 and never left. He was murdered by a group of assassins, who subsequently dismembered his body. His remains were never found.

According to the ODNI report, around the time of Khashoggi’s murder, “the Crown Prince probably fostered an environment in which aides were afraid that failure to complete assigned tasks might result in him firing or arresting them. This suggests that the aides were unlikely to question Muhammad bin Salman’s orders or undertake sensitive actions without his consent.”

Furthermore, the document concludes that the “Crown Prince viewed Khashoggi as a threat to the Kingdom and broadly supported using violent measures if necessary to silence him.”

“Although Saudi officials had pre-planned an unspecified operation against Khashoggi,” the document added, “we do not know how far in advance Saudi officials decided to harm him.”

On Friday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced visa restrictions on 76 Saudi officials involved in Khashoggi’s death and the harassment of other journalists and political dissidents abroad.

“The murder of journalist and U.S. lawful permanent resident Jamal Khashoggi shocked the world. Starting today, we will have a new global policy bearing his name to impose visa restrictions on those who engage in extraterritorial attacks on journalists or activists,” Blinken said in a statement.

The visa restrictions affect 76 Saudi officials “believed to have been engaged in threatening dissidents overseas, including but not limited to the Khashoggi killing” and at the direction of the Saudi government, the statement added.

Notably, President Joe Biden in his first call with Saudi Arabia’s 85-year-old King Salman on Thursday “affirmed the importance the United States places on universal human rights and the rule of law,” according to a readout from the White House. Though, Khashoggi’s name does not pop up in the readout.

Biden’s phone call followed White House press secretary on Tuesday saying: “On Saudi Arabia, I would say we’ve made clear from the beginning that we are going to recalibrate our relationship with Saudi Arabia.”

After previously denying knowledge of Khashoggi’s death, Saudi authorities at the time claimed that he got into a fight inside the consulate and died in the clash, with the crown prince telling Bloomberg that the journalist had left the consulate shortly after arriving in stark contradiction to reports. Eventually, authorities said the journalist was killed in a “rogue operation,” though they denied that bin Salman was involved.

In a June 2019 report, a United Nations investigator concluded that Khashoggi was “the victim of a deliberate, premeditated execution, an extrajudicial killing for which the state of Saudi Arabia is responsible under international human rights law.”

Less than two month’s after Khashoggi’s death, then-President Donald Trump doubted bin Salman’s involvement in the journalist’s death at the time, saying, “we may never know all of the facts surrounding” Khashoggi’s death, but “our relationship is with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”

“It could very well be that the Crown Prince had knowledge of this tragic event – maybe he did and maybe he didn’t!” he also said.

Trump was widely criticized at the time for his seemingly conciliatory stance.

You can follow Douglas Braff on Twitter @Douglas_P_Braff.

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