Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman approved the plan to assassinate Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018, according to a secret CIA report released on Friday (26) by director of national intelligence Avril Haines.
In the four-page document, the US intelligence agency describes that since 2017 the crown prince, known by the acronym MbS, has absolute control over the security of the kingdom – and therefore it would be impossible for officers to having carried out the operation without his authorization.
Khashoggi was a columnist for the Washington Post and a critic of MbS. He was last seen at the consulate on October 2, 2018, where he was reportedly given a fatal injection in front of his dismembered body and remains – never found – removed from the site in garbage bags.
The intelligence agency concluded, again in the year of his death, that the crown prince had Khashoggi killed – and claimed to have obtained an audio in which the 59-year-old journalist could be heard being tortured.
This is the first time that US intelligence has made one of its investigations public. The disqualification is also seen as a reprimand to the prince, who was a close ally of the Donald Trump administration.
Following the release of the documents, Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced a visa restriction on 76 people from Saudi Arabia who “were allegedly directly involved in activities against serious extraterritorial dissidents.”
But according to the New York Times, which spoke to senior government officials, Biden decided not to directly penalize the crown prince.
After weeks of debate with his security team, a consensus emerged that the price for formal retaliation – such as banning the heir’s entry into the country’s crown – would be too high and could sever relations with one of the main American Arabs. allies.
The move is expected to disappoint human rights groups and members of their own party who have criticized the Trump administration for failing to take tougher action against the crown prince.
In a statement from the official Middle East News Agency, Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan al-Saud said the report contained “incorrect information and conclusions”.
He also pointed out that those involved in the murder had been found guilty and that the sentences had been commemorated by Khashoggi’s family.
In 2019, Saudi Arabia sentenced five people to death and three to prison for the murder. According to the prosecutor in charge of the case, the death was not premeditated, but it occurred “on impulse for the moment”. The following year, however, the courts overturned the death sentences and they were sentenced to up to 20 years in prison.
After the report was published on Friday, the journalist’s fiancee, Hatice Cengiz, wrote on her social media “#justiceforjamal” (justice for Jamal) – on the day of her death, Khashoggi went to the consulate to look for papers to marry her. .
On Thursday evening (25), Joe Biden and King Salman spoke by phone – the Democratic government had previously signaled that the president would not speak directly to his son.
Although presented as a diplomatic link, the real goal, according to the American press, would have been to warn the Saudi king that the report would be disqualified and published – none of the official releases mentioned the Saudi journalist.
Much of the material used as evidence, including the recording of the torture, remains confidential, but the CIA document contains unpublished information, such as the names of 21 people involved in the murder – however, the file cannot confirm if they all knew that the operation would result in the death of Khashoggi.
Also according to the agency’s information, the group of 15 Saudis who were at the consulate on the day of the murder were officers who worked for the Saudi Center for Media Studies and Affairs at the Royal Court.
At the time, the body was chaired by Saud al-Qahtani, an adviser close to Mohammed bin Salman, who even said publicly in the same year that he did not make decisions without the approval of the crown prince.
The group also included seven members of Mohammed bin Salman’s personal elite, known as the Rapid Intervention Force, which reports directly to him and who participated in previous operations against dissidents in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere. other countries.
Documents obtained by the US network CNN and made public on Wednesday (24) showed that the two devices used by Khashoggi’s assassins came from a Saudi sovereign fund company, ordered by MbS.
In 2019, Congress passed a measure requiring the executive branch to provide lawmakers with a report on Khashoggi’s death and the intelligence community’s findings. The Trump administration has never complied.
During last month’s confirmation hearing for Avril Haines to become director of national intelligence, Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, asked if she would hand over the non-confidential report. She said she would act according to the law.