A recently declassified US intelligence report suggests that Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Muhammed bin Salman may have been the one to approve the killing of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a charge repeatedly denied by the kingdom.

The document released by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence is titled Assessing the Saudi Government’s Role in the Killing of Jamal Khashoggi. In its executive summary it says, “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.” It explains, “We base this assessment on the Crown Prince’s control of decision making in the Kingdom, 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 document further says, “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.”   

It may be recalled that Khashoggi was killed on October 2, 2018 after he walked into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. On that day he was visiting the consulate to get a document confirming his divorce, so that he could marry his Turkish fiancée Hatice Cengiz. While she waited outside, Khashoggi went in, but never came out.

The 59-year-old journalist, who was previously known to have been close to the Saudi Royal family, reportedly fell out of favor with them and went into self-imposed exile in the US in 2017. For weeks Saudi authorities denied any knowledge or Khashoggi’s fate or their involvement in his death.

But they changed their stand on October 20, claiming he died while resisting an attempt to be brought back to Saudi Arabia. Subsequent reports emerged that the journalist may have been drugged, died of a possible overdose or reaction to the drug and then dismembered and his remains disposed of subsequently.

In an interview to Norah O’Donnell of CBS News in September 2019, Prince Salman upon being asked point blank, if he had ordered the killing of Khashoggi, said, “Absolutely not,” but then mysteriously added that he took responsibility for it because “it was committee by individuals working for the Saudi government.”

Eleven unnamed individuals were tried for the murder in Saudi Arabia, and five were sentenced to death. However, all this while, the kingdom’s official stand was that there was no direct involvement of the Crown Prince.

The declassified report explains the role of Saudi royals saying, “The IS-member Saudi team that arrived in Istanbul on 2 October 2018 included officials who worked for, or were associated with, the Saudi Center for Studies and Media Affairs (CSMARC) at the Royal Court. At the time of the operation, CSMARC was led by Saud al-Qahtani, a close adviser of Muhammad bin Salman, who claimed publicly in mid 2018 that he did not make decisions without the Crown Prince’s approval.”

The report then squarely pointed to the involvement of Crown Prince Salman saying, “The team also included seven members of Muhammad bin Salman’s elite personal protective detail, known as the Rapid Intervention Force (RIF). The RIF-a subset of the Saudi Royal Guard-exists to defend the Crown Prince, answers only to him, and had directly participated in earlier dissident suppression operations in the Kingdom and abroad at the Crown Prince’s direction. We judge that members of the RIF would not have participated in the operation against Khashoggi without Muhammad bin Salman’s approval.”

The full report may be read here.

*Feature image courtesy POMED via Wikimedia Commons.