Washington, Feb 26 (efe-epa).- The United States government on Friday released an intelligence report that found Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman approved the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey in 2018.
Washington then sanctioned more than 70 Saudis, but not the prince himself.
“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,” said the newly declassified report officially released Friday.
Previous US president Donald Trump had refused to publish the report, but his successor Joe Biden, who has said that he intends to re-evaluate relations with Riyadh, decided to do so, but not without first calling the Saudi king Salman bin Abdulaziz al Saud Thursday.
In the statement of the call distributed by the White House, no mention was made of Khashoggi, who was murdered on Oct. 2, 2018 at the Saudi embassy in Istanbul.
The four-page report indicates that when the murder occurred, bin Salman controlled the decision-making process in the kingdom, that a key adviser and members of his personal security detail were directly involved in the case, and that he has supported the use of violent measures to silence dissidents abroad.
“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 carry out an operation of this nature without the Crown Prince’s authorization,” the report said.
The report indicates that at the time when Khashoggi was murdered, bin Salman probably fostered an environment in which aides were afraid of being fired or arrested if they failed in their tasks.
“This suggests that the aides were unlikely to question Muhammad bin Salman’s orders or undertake sensitive actions without his consent,” it added.
Among the group sent to Turkey prepared to assassinate the journalist, who had been lured into the Saudi embassy to collect documents for his upcoming marriage, ??were seven members of bin Salman’s personal security detail, known as the Rapid Intervention Force, a branch of the Saudi Royal Guard tasked with protect the crown prince and who only responds to his orders.
The Saudi foreign affairs ministry responded by releasing a statement saying the kingdom “completely rejects the negative, false and unacceptable assessment in the report pertaining to the Kingdom’s leadership, and notes that the report contained inaccurate information and conclusions.”
Following the release, the US Treasury Department announced sanctions against the head of the operation, the former deputy director head of Saudi’s general intelligence presidency, Ahmad Hassan Mohammed al Asiri, and against the Rapid Intervention Force.
The State Department reported visa restrictions against 76 Saudis “believed to have been engaged in threatening dissidents overseas, including but not limited to the Khashoggi killing.”
Bin Salman was not on the list.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement that Washington wants to make it “absolutely clear that extraterritorial threats and assaults by Saudi Arabia against activists, dissidents, and journalists must end.”
Later, at a press conference at which Blinken was asked why bin Salman was not on the list, he said that the US did not want to “rupture” ties.
“What we’ve done by the actions that we’ve taken is really not to rupture the relationship but to recalibrate to be more in line with our interests and our values,” he said. “And I think that we have to understand as well that this is bigger than any one person.”
Blinken also announced that the government is reviewing arms sales to Riyadh following the release of the report.
“We are reviewing these arms sales and we are making sure that going forward what we do provide goes to the defense of the kingdom, not its ability to prosecute offensive operations,” Blinken said in reference to the Riyadh-led Arab coalition intervention in Yemen.
Khashoggi, 59, a US resident and columnist for the Washington Post, was a critic of the Saudi government.