Saudi Crown Prince Ordered Killing Of Journalist Jamal Khashoggi: CIA

18 Nov 2018 3:19 PM GMT
Saudi Crown Prince Ordered Killing Of Journalist Jamal Khashoggi: CIA
Image Credits: Wikimedia

As per CIA investigation, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul, Turkey last month, The Washington Post has reported, citing various sources familiar with the matter.

This latest finding is the most definitive assessment linking the Crown Prince to the killing, and it contradicts Saudi government’s claim made earlier on Thursday that Prince Salman was in no way involved in the killing.

Renowned journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a staunch critic of the Saudi regime, was a columnist for The Washington Post. On October 2, evidence suggests that he was found murdered inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, where he went to fetch the necessary documents for his marriage to a Turkish woman named Hatice Cengiz. A team of 15 Saudi government agents flew to Istanbul on a government aircraft, killed Khashoggi and dismembered his body.

Evidence in support of CIA’s conclusion

A phone call made by Prince Salman’s brother and Saudi ambassador to the United States, Prince Khalid bin Salman, which was intercepted by US intelligence adds further weight to CIA’s assessment. As per The Washington Post, Khalid told Khashoggi that he should go to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to get the documents and assured him that it would be safe.

However, Prince Khalid declared in a tweet that he “certainly never suggested” to Khashoggi that he should go to Turkey.

As of now, it is not clear whether Prince Khalid knew of the assassination plan or not but CIA has confidently claimed that he called Khashoggi on his brother’s direction.

The CIA other sources like an audio clip recorded by a device placed inside the Saudi consulate by Turkish authorities. Turkey provided the recording to CIA, according to which Khashoggi was killed almost immediately after entering the consulate. The recording clearly contradicts the latest claim by the Saudi government that Khashoggi was killed in a fist-fight after a brawl broke out.

Khashoggi, as evident, died in the office of the Saudi consul general who has been recorded as saying that Khashoggi’s body needed to be removed from his office and facility cleaned of any evidence. He was reportedly murdered by Maher Mutreb, a security official who has been seen with Crown Prince and was part of the 15-member team.

Turkey has also provided the recording to Britain, France, Germany and Saudi Arabia.

CIA also examined a call made from within the consulate after the murder by Maher Mutreb. He was photographed entering and leaving the consulate the day Khashoggi was killed. As per reports, Mutreb called Saud-al-Qahtani, one of the top aides of Prince Mohammed and told him that the operation had been completed. According to the passports reviewed by The Post, some officials of the 15-member team have served on Mohammed’s security team and accompanied him on his visits to the United States.

There is no explicit conclusive evidence, a “smoking gun” so to say, but the extent to which the Crown Prince is involved even in the minor affairs of the Kingdom, suggest that it would be naïve to assume otherwise. Various governments, including the British government, agree that keeping in mind Prince Salman’s status and the working of the Kingdom such a brazen operation on foreign soil could not have happened without the Crown Prince’s approval. In the tightly controlled Arab Kingdom, no “rogue operations” happen, as the Saudi government has claimed in the past. Besides contradictory accounts offered by the Saudi government points towards a state-sponsored cover-up.

Saudi government’s contradictory accounts of the killing

Initially, the Saudi government claimed that Khashoggi left the consulate well and alive the same day. On October 25, Saudi Arabia’s state-run news agency, SPA quoted Saudi public prosecutor, Saud al-Mujeb as saying that Khashoggi was a victim of premeditated murder.

The latest account offered on Thursday by Saudi prosecutors claims that deputy intelligence chief, Ahmad al-Assiri issued an order that Khashoggi be brought back to Saudi Arabia by persuasion or force. The 15-member team which was sent has no interrogation experts but included an autopsy expert who presumably dismembered Khashoggi’s body after he was killed. Saudi Deputy Public Prosecutor, Shalaan bin Ranjhi Shalaan said in a news conference on Thursday that Khashoggi was given a lethal injection after the negotiation failed and a brawl broke out. His body was then dismembered and handed over to a local “collaborator”, according to BBC. Eleven unidentified people have been charged by the Saudi public prosecutors and Assiri said that he is seeking the death penalty for five of them.

Likely consequences for Saudi Arabia and Mohammed bin Salman

Western governments including the British government largely agree with CIA’s assessment that Prince Salman ordered the killing of Jamal Khashoggi. And although alleged involvement has been widely condemned, no substantial action has been taken by any country against the Kingdom or the Crown Prince.

US President Donald Trump resisted any attempt to blame Prince Salman. Even after being shown the evidence by CIA, he had continued to maintain that the killing was carried out by ‘rogue actors’. It must be mentioned here that Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner, shares a close rapport with Mohammed bin Salman.

On Saturday, November 17, Trump discussed CIA’s assessment on phone with the agency’s director Gina Hespel and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters that Trump called the assessment “very premature” but did not entirely rule out the possibility of Prince Mohammed’s involvement.

Saudi Arabia is America’s most important ally in the Middle-East, particularly for countering Iran. Trump told White House officials that he does not want the controversy over Khashoggi’s killing to impede oil production by Saudi Arabia. On Saturday, before the US President talked to the CIA and Secretary of State, he said “We also have a great ally in Saudi Arabia. They give us a lot of jobs and a lot of business and economic development. They have been a truly spectacular ally in terms of job and economic development,” according to the CNN reports.

Although Trump and senior officials of his administration have said that Saudi Arabia must be held accountable for its role in the killing, Trump’s insistence on economic ties suggests that he is not thinking about taking any major steps.

Trump administration on Thursday imposed sanctions on 17 individuals but it does not include any senior Saudi intelligence officers. The US Senate has already been informed about the CIA assessment and according to a report by The Guardian, both Republican and Democratic senators urged Trump on Saturday to take tough actions against the Crown Prince.

Possible implications

In absence of any external pressure, it seems that Prince Salman will continue to be the de facto ruler of the kingdom. He wields immense power and controls the interior ministry (including the feared Mabalith secret police), the National Guard (responsible for protecting the ruling family and its interests) and being the Defense Minister, he also controls the armed forces. He got his country involved in the costly and seemingly unending war in Yemen in 2015. Saudi Arabia has been accused of war crimes and blocking humanitarian aid. Last year, the Crown Prince locked up many princes and businessmen over alleged charges of corruption.

Many Saudi Arabian youngsters see in him a visionary leader and have overlooked his excesses but the CIA report has surely hurt him and the Kingdom’s reputation.

It remains to be been seen whether US will look beyond economic interests and act against him for the horrendous murder of a US resident or overlook and accept his excesses as many Saudis have done.

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