A newly declassified US intelligence assessment alleges that Saudi Arabia’s crown prince Mohammad bin Salman approved the operation that resulted in the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
The long awaited report was released by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence on Friday, more than two years after Khashoggi was murdered at the Saudi embassy in Istanbul. It found that bin Salman approved the operation as part of his efforts to silence dissent to his rule.
“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 report noted.
The assessment was based on “the Crown Prince’s control of decision making in the Kingdom since 2017, 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 report was completed soon after the brutal killing of Khashoggi in October 2018 , but had not been released by the Trump administration due to fears it would impact hundreds of millions of dollars in arms sales to the Kingdom.
Donald Trump cited the economic benefits of the US relationship with Saudi Arabia as a reason for not acting on the killing of Khashoggi, who worked as a columnist for the Washington Post.
Mr Trump shrugged off a United Nations investigation published in 2019 that revealed gruesome details of Khashoggi’s murder. The killing was carried out by a hit team that travelled to Turkey from Saudi Arabia.
“I only say they spend $400 to $450 billion over a period of time, all money, all jobs, buying equipment,” Mr Trump said in 2019. “I’m not like a fool that says, ‘We don’t want to do business with them.’ And by the way, if they don’t do business with us, you know what they do? They’ll do business with the Russians or with the Chinese.”
The decision to declassify the intelligence report is an early indication that Joe Biden’s administration is likely to take a tougher approach with the long-time US ally. Mr Biden announced earlier this month that the US would halt its support for a Saudi Arabia-led military campaign in Yemen.
The State Department is due to announce its response to the murder of Khashoggi later today, and is expected to announce restrictions on offensive weapon sales.
The ODNI, a cabinet-level agency that coordinates between US intelligence arms, said the killing could not have been carried out without his approval.
“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,” it said.