Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman approved the murder of Virginia-based Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a newly-released U.S. intelligence report states.
The Biden administration’s release of the Feb. 11 report, prepared by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, marks a dramatic turn in the U.S.-Saudi alliance, which under President Trump had stepped carefully in statements concerning Khashoggi’s death.
“We assess that Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince approved an operation in Istanbul, Turkey to capture or kill Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi,” the report’s summary says.
That assessment was based on “the Crown Prince’s control of decision making in the Kingdom,” the summary says.
U.S. intelligence also confirmed that a key advisor to the prince, and members of his protective detail, were directly involved in the operation, the summary says.
“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 summary says.
Bin Salman also has a history of “using violent measures to silence dissidents abroad, including Khashoggi,” the report notes.
The central conclusion of the report was widely expected given that intelligence officials were said to have reached it soon after the brutal Oct. 2, 2018, murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a critic of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s authoritarian consolidation of power.
U.S. intelligence determined early on that a 15-member Saudi team arrived in Istanbul on Oct. 2, 2018 — the day the killing was carried out.
That team included personnel led by a close advisor to bin Salman, Saud al-Qahtani, “who claimed publicly in mid-2018 that he did not make decisions without the Crown Prince’s approval,” the report says.
The team also included seven members of bin Salman’s elite personal protective detail, a unit that answers only to the prince, the report says.
A subset of the Saudi Royal Guard, the unit “had directly participated in earlier dissident suppression operations in the Kingdom and abroad at the Crown Prince’s direction,” the report says.
It would not have participated in the operation against Khashoggi without the crown prince’s approval, the report says.
President Biden spoke on Thursday with Saudi King Salman ahead of the release of the redacted report implicating his son — but a White House readout of the call did not mention Khashoggi, a Saudi dissident and Washington Post columnist who was murdered and then dismembered in 2018 after being lured to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
The public assignment of responsibility to the 35-year-old crown prince is likely to set the tone for the new administration’s relationship with a country Biden has criticized but which the White House also regards as a strategic partner.
With Post wires