The US intelligence community formally blamed Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Friday for the grisly 2018 murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.
The Director of National Intelligence’s (DNI) long-sought unclassified report concluded that the Kingdom’s de facto ruler “approved” the operation in Istanbul to “capture or kill” Khashoggi.
“We base this assessment on the Crown Prince’s control of decisionmaking in the Kingdom, 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 says, using an alternate spelling for the crown prince’s name.
“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 added in an executive summary.
Khashoggi was brutally killed and likely dismembered after being lured by Saudi officials to their consulate in Istanbul, Turkey in October 2018. While Riyadh initially denied any role in his death, it later sought to pin blame on what it said was a botched rendition operation.
The Saudi explanation has been widely rejected by both the UN and a wide group of US lawmakers who have maintained bin Salman’s culpability.
The intelligence assessment is not new. Former President Donald Trump blocked its release as he consistently sought to shield bin Salman from blame in a killing that rocked the world.
But the Biden administration has prioritized its publication in-line with US law, despite what may be repercussions for the US-Saudi relationship.
In explaining its decision to lay blame on bin Salman, the DNI pointed to the inclusion of individuals from bin Salman’s personal protective detail, known as the Rapid Intervention Force (RIF), within the team that killed Khashoggi.
The RIF, the report says, “answers only to” bin Salman, and had a history of carrying out operations in the Kingdom and beyond its borders intended to quash dissent.
“We judge that members of the RIF would not have participated in the operation against Khashoggi without Muhammad bin Salman’s approval,” it said. “The Crown Prince viewed Khashoggi as a threat to the Kingdom and broadly supported using violent measures if necessary to silence him.”
Still, the report notes that while Saudi officials had planned to carry out an operation against the journalist, “we do not know how far in advance Saudi officials decided to harm him.”
Khashoggi’s remains have never been found amid speculation that they were dissolved in a vat of acid.
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