The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has categorically denied and condemned the US intelligence report incriminating the de factor ruler Prince Muhammad Bin Salman for Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s murder. The Saudi foreign ministry has called the reports false, negative and unacceptable.
According to the details, the Director of the National Intelligence of the United States concluded in a recently declassified intelligence report that the Saudi crown prince Muhammad Bin Salman approved the killing of the Saudi critic and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul, Turkey, in 2018.
Background of the case
Khashoggi, a Saudi dissident living in exile first in the US and then in Turkey, disappeared in Istanbul in October 2018. He was last seen entering the Saudi consulate building where he had been summoned to carry out some paperwork regarding his marriage. He never came out.
According to the Turkey officials, he was tortured inside the consulate. He was subsequently killed through asphyxiation and his dead body was dismembered and transported out of the building in plastic bags. The Turkish officials also claim of having audio and video evidence of the whole incident. The New York Times reported in an independent investigation that the killers had also set up a doppelganger clad in Khashoggi’s clothes, purportedly to hoodwink the security cameras that the journalist had exited the consulate in one piece.
Further investigations revealed that on the day of Khashoggi’s disappearance, a gang of 15 Saudi-backed assassinators – all of them from the vicinity of the crown prince – had flown from Riyadh to Istanbul in a private plane provided by the Saudi government. They sojourned a day in Turkey and flew back to Saudi Arabia in two groups in two private planes after performing the deed that they had been sent for.
The Saudi government initially denied any involvement in Khashoggi’s murder and even sent a team to investigate the incident. Almost three weeks after Khashoggi’s assassination, the Saudi television aired that the Khashoggi had “accidentally” died in a “fight” and that 18 people in connection with it have been arrested. Five of these were sentenced to death in Riyadh and three were sentenced to life imprisonment.
The declassified intelligence report
The Director of the National Intelligence of the United States concluded in a long-awaited intelligence report that Muhammad Bin Salman had a personal hand in silencing Jamal Khashoggi, one of his most staunch critics, forever. “The crown prince viewed Khashoggi as a threat to the Kingdom and broadly supported using violent measures if necessary to silence him”, the report said.
The report also revealed that the gang of assassinators also included seven members of the Rapid Intervention Force, the MBS’s elite personal protective detail that exists to protect the crown prince and answers only to him. These seven persons had also participated in such manoeuvres to silence Saudi critics in the past. “We judge that the members of the RIF would not have participated in the operation against Khashoggi without Muhammad Bin Salman’s approval.”
The intelligence findings were long known to many US officials and reported by many media outlets with great degrees of precision, even when they remained classified. Yet as the Biden administration declassified the findings, it refrained from the direct punishment of the prince himself, supposedly to preserve the Saudi-US relations.
Even though the report did not directly point fingers at the crown prince for ordering the attack on Khashoggi, it described him as having “absolute control” over the intelligence organizations of the country and that it would have been highly unlikely for an operation of this calibre to be carried out without his approval.
The US State Department also announced a new policy, the “Khashoggi ban”, that will allow the US to deny visas to people who harm, threaten or spy on journalists on behalf of foreign governments.
The Saudi foreign ministry, refuting the intelligence report, has said that the Kingdom “categorically rejects the offensive and incorrect assessment in the report pertaining to the kingdom’s leadership.” The foreign ministry reiterated that the crime was committed by a group of individuals who have transgressed from all the regulations and authorities of the agencies employing them.
The foreign ministry went on to say that the Kingdom had taken all the “possible measures” within its legal system to “ensure that justice was served.”