Washington: Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler approved an operation to capture or kill murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018, according to United States intelligence released as the United States imposed sanctions on some of those involved but spared the crown prince himself in an effort to preserve relations with the kingdom.
Khashoggi, a US resident who wrote opinion columns for the Washington Post critical of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s policies, was killed and dismembered by a team of operatives linked to the prince in the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul.
Among the punitive steps the United States took on Friday, it imposed a visa ban on some Saudis believed to be involved in the Khashoggi killing and placed sanctions on others, including a former deputy intelligence chief, that would freeze their US assets and generally bar Americans from dealing with them.
US officials also said they were considering cancelling arms sales to Saudi Arabia that pose human rights concerns and limiting future sales to “defensive” weapons, as it reassesses its relationship with the kingdom and its role in the Yemen war.
“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 US Office of the Director of National Intelligence said in the four-page report.
The intelligence agency based its assessment on the crown prince’s control of decision-making, the direct involvement of one of his key advisers and his own protective detail, and his “support for using violent measures to silence dissidents abroad, including Khashoggi”, it added.
“Since 2017, the Crown Prince has had absolute control of the Kingdom’s security and intelligence organisations, making it highly unlikely that Saudi officials would have carried out an operation of this nature without (his) authorisation,” it said.
In declassifying the report, Biden reversed his predecessor Donald Trump’s refusal to release it in defiance of a 2019 law, reflecting a new US willingness to challenge the kingdom on issues from human rights to Yemen.
“This report has been sitting there, the last administration wouldn’t even release it. We immediately, when I got in, filed the report, read it, got it, and released it today. And it is outrageous what happened,” Biden said on Univision.