WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The CIA believes Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul, sources familiar with the matter said on Friday, complicating President Donald Trump’s efforts to preserve ties with a key U.S. ally.
For the Donald Trump, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman might be the perfect Middle East partner. He leads a strategic alignment against Iran, maintains quiet ties with Israel, buys billions of dollars in U.S. weapons and spends millions of dollars at his hotels and real estate ventures.
For Mohammed bin Salman, Trump is an equally convenient ally. The U.S. president doesn’t get too worked up about democracy and human rights—or the fate of an individual Saudi journalist who disappeared in Turkey.
The sources said the CIA had briefed other parts of the U.S. government, including Congress, on its assessment, which contradicts Saudi government assertions that Prince Mohammed was not involved.
The CIA’s finding, first reported by the Washington Post, is the most definitive U.S. assessment to date tying Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler directly to the killing.
Both the White House and the State Department declined to comment.
“The claims in this purported assessment is false,” a spokeswoman for the Saudi Embassy in Washington said in a statement. “We have and continue to hear various theories without seeing the primary basis for these speculations.”
Khashoggi, a critic of the Saudi government and a columnist for the Washington Post, was killed at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2 when he went there to pick up documents he needed for his planned marriage to a Turkish woman.
Khashoggi had resisted pressure from Riyadh for him to return home. Saudi officials have said a team of 15 Saudi nationals was sent to confront Khashoggi at the consulate and that he was accidentally killed in a chokehold by men who were trying to force him to return to the kingdom.
Turkish officials have said the killing was intentional and have been pressuring Saudi Arabia to extradite those responsible to stand trial. An adviser to Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday accused Saudi Arabia of trying to cover up the murder.
Saudi Arabia’s public prosecutor said on Thursday that he was seeking the death penalty for five suspects charged in the killing. The prosecutor, Shalaan al-Shalaan, told reporters the crown prince knew nothing of the operation, in which Khashoggi’s body was dismembered and removed from the consulate.
U.S. officials have been skeptical that Prince Mohammed would not have known about plans to kill Khashoggi, given his control over Saudi Arabia.
The Post, citing people familiar with the matter, said the CIA’s assessment was based in part on a phone call the crown prince’s brother, Prince Khaled bin Salman, the Saudi ambassador to the United States, had with Khashoggi.
Prince Khaled told Khashoggi 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, the Post said.
The newspaper, citing people familiar with the call, said it was not clear if the prince knew Khashoggi would be killed but that he made the call at his brother’s direction.
Seen in the pictures below, Prince Khalid bin Salman and his brother Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman visit with former US Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush and James Baker, ex-US Secretary of State in Texas on April 7, 2018.
Prince Khalid bin Salman and his brother Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman visit with former US Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush and James Baker, ex-US Secretary of StateGeorge W Bush wrote on his Twitter account “Delighted to join the 43rd President and Jim Baker in welcoming the Saudi Crown Prince His Royal Highness Prince Mohammed bin Salman and His Royal Highness Prince Khalid bin Salman to Texas. A wonderful chance to celebrate the long-standing friendship between our two nations.”
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud said in a Twitter post on Friday that the last contact he had with Khashoggi was via text on Oct. 26, 2017, nearly a year before the journalist’s death.
As we told the Washington Post the last contact I had with Mr. Khashoggi was via text on Oct 26 2017. I never talked to him by phone and certainly never suggested he go to Turkey for any reason. I ask the US government to release any information regarding this claim.
— Khalid bin Salman خالد بن سلمان (@kbsalsaud) November 16, 2018
Profile of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud
Although the world has gotten to know Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman through his so-called “visionary reforms” and no-nonsense approach, not much is known about his younger brother, Khalid Bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, who last year was appointed the Kingdom’s Ambassador to the United States, becoming the 10th Ambassador of Saudi Arabia to the US since 1945.
Born in 1988, Khalid Bin Salman is the younger full brother of the Crown Prince.
Prior to his appointment as the Saudi Arabia ambassador to the U.S, Prince Khalid was a senior civilian advisor in the Ministry of Defense. He also helped execute the Ministry’s strategic restructuring as part of the National Transformation Program under Vision 2030.
Previously, he was an officer in the Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF) where he flew F15-S combat missions in Syria and Yemen. As a result of a back condition that prevented him from flying, Prince Khalid served as a tactical intelligence officer at the King Abdulaziz Air Base in Dhahran.
Prince Khalid graduated from the King Faisal Air Academy in Riyadh and was commissioned a second lieutenant in the RSAF. He received pilot training in the United States at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas and Columbus Air Force Base in Columbus, Mississippi. He also studied advanced electronic warfare in France.
Aside from his experiences as a former fighter pilot and a current ambassador, Prince Khalid is also a husband and father to a daughter and a son. He is married to Princess Nora Bint Mohammed and is dad to Dana and Abdulaziz.
– Michael Onas