Washington, Feb 26 (efe-epa).- Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman gave the go-ahead for the action that led to the October 2018 murder of Jamal Khashoggi, the United States said Friday.
“We assess that Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman approved an operation in Istanbul, Turkey, to capture or kill Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi,” the office of the Director of National Intelligence says in a declassified version of a report prepared for US policymakers.
Khashoggi, a former member of the Saudi elite who fell out of favor because of his criticism of Bin Salman, was a columnist for The Washington Post at the time of his death.
The intelligence assessment cites Bin Salman’s dominant position in the Saudi government and the “direct involvement” of people close to the crown prince, including seven of his bodyguards, in the killing.
“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 have carried out an operation of this nature without the Crown Prince’s authorization,” the report says.
Bin Salman, according to the report, “fostered an environment in which aides were afraid that failure to complete assigned tasks might result in him firing or arresting them.”
The 59-year-old Khashoggi had been living in self-imposed exile in the US for more than a year at the time of his visit to the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2, 2018, to obtain documents he needed to wed Hatice Cengiz, a Turkish citizen.
Cengiz sounded the alarm when Khashoggi failed to reappear, yet it took the Saudi government weeks to acknowledge that he died inside the consulate and Riyadh’s initial account said that he perished in a fight.
Revelations by the Turkish government ultimately forced the Kingdom to admit that Khashoggi was murdered and his body cut up.
No senior official was among the eight people Saudi Arabia convicted and sentenced for Khashoggi’s murder and the Kingdom has continued to insist that the crown prince was not involved.
While then-President Donald Trump accepted Riyadh’s affirmation that Bin Salman did not order the murder, the current occupant of the White House, Joe Biden, said during last year’s election campaign that the crown prince was behind the crime.
“The government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia completely rejects” the US report blaming Mohammad bin Salman for Khashoggi’s death, the oil-rich nation’s foreign ministry said in a statement published by state news agency SPA.
Biden spoke by telephone Thursday with Saudi King Salman, the father of the crown prince.
The president “affirmed the importance the United States places on universal human rights and the rule of law,” the White House said in a statement.
He also told the king that “he would work to make the bilateral relationship as strong and transparent as possible,” according to the statement.
Speaking Friday before the release of the report, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters traveling with Biden aboard Air Force One that the administration has been clear about wanting to “recalibrate” the US relationship with Saudi Arabia.
Within hours of the publication of the report, Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced that 76 Saudi nationals would be barred from entering the US under the “Khashoggi Ban,” a rule excluding individuals “who, acting on behalf of a foreign government, are believed to have been directly engaged in serious, extraterritorial counter-dissident activities.”
The US Treasury Department, meanwhile, imposed financial sanctions on Riyadh’s former deputy intelligence chief, Ahmed al-Asiri, and on the Saudi Royal Guard’s rapid intervention force, several of whose members took part in Khashoggi’s murder. EFE