The CIA has said that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul last month.
Washington Post reports that the revelation contradicts the Saudi government’s claims that the Prince was not involved in the killing, according to people familiar with the matter.
Legit.ng gathered that the CIA’s assessment, in which officials have said they have high confidence, is the most definitive to date linking Mohammed to the operation and complicates the Trump administration’s efforts to preserve its relationship with a close ally.
According to the report, a team of 15 Saudi agents flew to Istanbul on government aircraft in October and killed Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate, where he had come to pick up documents that he needed for his planned marriage to a Turkish woman.
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In reaching its conclusions, the CIA examined multiple sources of intelligence, including a phone call that the prince’s brother Khalid bin Salman, the Saudi ambassador to the United States, had with Khashoggi, according to the people familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the intelligence.
Khalid told Khashoggi, a contributing columnist to The Washington Post, that he should go to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to retrieve the documents and gave him assurances that it would be safe to do so.
It is not clear if Khalid knew that Khashoggi would be killed, but he made the call at his brother’s direction, according to the people familiar with the call, which was intercepted by U.S. intelligence.
Fatimah Baeshen, a spokeswoman for the Saudi Embassy in Washington, said the ambassador and Khashoggi never discussed “anything related to going to Turkey.”
She added that the claims in the CIA’s “purported assessment are false. We have and continue to hear various theories without seeing the primary basis for these speculations.”
Saudi Arabia's public prosecutor said the country's Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, had no knowledge of the operation.
The CIA’s conclusion about Mohammed’s role was also based on the agency’s assessment of the prince as the country’s de facto ruler who oversees even minor affairs in the kingdom.
“The accepted position is that there is no way this happened without him being aware or involved,” said a U.S. official familiar with the CIA’s conclusions.
The CIA sees Mohammed as a “good technocrat,” the U.S. official said, but also as volatile and arrogant, someone who “goes from zero to 60, doesn’t seem to understand that there are some things you can’t do.”
CIA analysts believe he has a firm grip on power and is not in danger of losing his status as heir to the throne despite the Khashoggi scandal.
“The general agreement is that he is likely to survive,” the official said, adding that Mohammed’s role as the future Saudi king is “taken for granted.”
A spokesman for the CIA declined to comment.
Over the past several weeks, the Saudis have offered multiple, contradictory explanations for what happened at the consulate.
This week, the Saudi public prosecutor blamed the operation on a rogue band of operatives who were sent to Istanbul to return Khashoggi to Saudi Arabia, in an operation that veered off course when the journalist “was forcibly restrained and injected with a large amount of a drug resulting in an over.dose that led to his death,” according to a report by the prosecutor.
The prosecutor announced charges against 11 alleged participants and said he would seek the death penalty against five of them.
One lingering question is why Mohammed might have decided to kill Khashoggi, who was not agitating for the crown prince’s removal.
A theory the CIA has developed is that Mohammed believed Khashoggi was a dangerous Islamist who was too sympathetic to the Muslim brotherhood, according to people familiar with the assessment.
Days after Khashoggi disappeared, Mohammed relayed that view in a phone call with Kushner and John Bolton, the national security adviser, who has long opposed the Brotherhood and seen it as a regional security threat.
Mohammed’s private condemnation of the slain journalist stood in contrast to his government’s public comments, which mourned Khashoggi’s killing as a “terrible mistake” and a “tragedy.”
U.S. officials are unclear on when or whether the Saudi government will follow through with its threatened executions of the individuals blamed for Khashoggi’s killing.
“It could happen overnight or take 20 years,” the U.S. official said, adding that the treatment of subordinates could erode Mohammed’s standing going forward.
In killing those who followed his orders, “it’s hard to get the next set [of subordinates] to help,” the official said.
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Meanwhile, Legit.ng had previously reported that following the brutal killing of Saudi Arabian journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, death penalty was sought by Saudi against five suspects that were accused of murdering the journalist in the country's consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, on Tuesday, October 2.
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