Declassified White House intel pins Saudi prince for Khashoggi murder

The intelligence report comes a day after US President Joe Biden spoke with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman, reportedly without mentioning the document.

Washington Post journalist Khashoggi was killed in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018

A US intelligence report found Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman approved the 2018 killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

The release of the report Friday could prove a test for normally close relations between Washington and Riyadh. It comes the day after US President Joe Biden’s first phone call with Saudi King Salman.

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US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Friday the State Department will impose a “Khashoggi Ban,” a set of restrictions on 76 Saudi individuals who are believed to be involved in the killing. 

But media reports suggest that the US will not impose sanctions on the crown prince.

What did the report say?

The document cites Mohammad bin Salman’s “absolute power” over Saudi intelligence and security forces since 2017. 

“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.

Washington Post journalist Khashoggi — a critic of the prince’s apparent authoritarian consolidation of power — was killed in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October, 2018.

Saudi Arabia sentenced five people to 20 years each in prison over the murder.

The document concluded that a close adviser of the royal family, who publicly said that he did not make decisions without Mohammad bin Salman’s approval, was affiliated with a Saudi delegation that arrived in Istanbul in October 2018.

The same delegation included seven members of Mohammad bin Salman’s aides and guards, known as the Rapid Intervention Force (RIF), who only answered to the crown prince’s orders and carried out “dissident suppression operations” in the kingdom, according to the report.

The Day: The Khashoggi Report

Why is the report important?

News media had reported that US intelligence agencies concluded in 2018 that the prince likely ordered the killing, although such a finding was never officially released until Friday.

Recognition of the involvement of the prince could cast a huge shadow over relations between the US and its most significant ally in the Arab world, Saudi Arabia. Relations between the two had flourished under Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump.

Trump was particularly cautious about criticizing Saudi Arabia’s record on human rights, notably over the Khashoggi murder.

Prince Mohammed’s critics — including a rights group founded by the slain journalist — want the US president to back up past tough rhetoric about Saudi Arabia. They want sanctions or other tough actions that would target and isolate the prince.

They fear Biden will simply opt for condemnation, avoiding a lasting standoff with such Saudi Arabia, seen as a valuable strategic partner given its vast oil reserves and regional rivalry with Iran.

  • A still image taken from CCTV video claims to show Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi as he arrives at Saudi Arabia's consulate in Istanbul.JAMAL KHASHOGGI: A MYSTERIOUS DISAPPEARANCE AND DEATHVanishes into thin airOctober 2: Prominent journalist Jamal Khashoggi was last seen entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, where he had gone to obtain an official document for his upcoming marriage to his Turkish fiancee, Hatice Cengiz. He never emerged from the building, prompting Cengiz, who waited outside, to raise the alarm.
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