Saudi Crown Prince approved assassination of Jamal Khashoggi, US intelligence finds

26 February 2021, 18:20 | Updated: 26 February 2021, 21:15

The Saudi Crown Prince has been implicated in Jamal Khashoggi's assassination
The Saudi Crown Prince has been implicated in Jamal Khashoggi's assassination. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman approved the 2018 assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a White House report has found.

The dissident and author was brutally killed at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, on 2 October 2018 while visiting to obtain paperwork for his upcoming wedding to fiancée Hatice Cengiz.

Officials in the building originally claimed Mr Khashoggi, who fled Saudi Arabia in 2017, had left the consulate. They were later forced into admitting that he was dead. Hours before, a hit-squad of 15 people arrived in Turkey.

In November 2018, the CIA stated that the 35-year-old Crown Prince had ordered the assassination, which Mohammed bin Salman firmly denied.

However, a White House report published on Friday showed that US intelligence found bin Salman to be in "control of decision-making" in the Kingdom since 2017.

The declassified paper implicates the Saudi Royal in Mr Khashoggi's death and says such decisions would not be made "without his consent". It adds that he saw the journalist as a threat and "broadly" supported the use of violence to silence him.

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The report says: "We assess that Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman approved an operation in Istanbul, Turkey, to capture or kill Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi."

It continues: "At the time of the Khashoggi 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 Mohammed bin Salman's orders to undertake sensitive actions without his consent."

The paper also says: "We base this assessment on the Crown Prince's control of decisionmaking 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 papers were released one day after a courtesy call from US President Joe Biden to Saudi King Salman, though a White House summary of the conversation made no mention of the killing and said instead that the men had discussed the countries' longstanding partnership.

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The kingdom's state-run Saudi Press Agency similarly did not mention Mr Khashoggi's killing in its report about the call, rather focusing on regional issues such as Iran and the ongoing war in Yemen.

According to the AFP news agency, Saudi Arabia said later on Friday that it "completely rejects" the assessment of the report.

On the day of Mr Khashoggi's death, surveillance cameras tracked his route and those of his alleged killers in Istanbul in the hours leading up to the assassination.

A Turkish bug planted at the consulate reportedly captured the sound of a forensic saw, operated by a Saudi colonel who was also a forensics expert, dismembering the journalist's body within an hour of his entering the building.

The whereabouts of his remains remain unknown.

Mohammed bin Salman said in 2019 that he took "full responsibility" for the killing since it happened on his watch, but denied ordering it.

Saudi officials have said Mr Khashoggi's killing was the work of rogue Saudi security and intelligence officials.

Courts in the Kingdom announced last year that they had sentenced eight Saudi nationals to prison over Mr Khashoggi's killing but none were identified.