US intelligence services concluded that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had approved an operation in Turkey to “capture or kill” veteran journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
The four-page report declassified by the Biden administration and released on Friday said the assessment was based on factors such as Prince Mohammed’s “control over decision-making in the kingdom”.
The report highlighted the direct involvement of the crown prince’s main lieutenants in the 2018 operation against Khashoggi, as well as members of his protective elite. He also noted the personal support of the Crown Prince for the use violent measures silence dissidents abroad, including Khashoggi ”.
One of Saudi Arabia’s most prominent journalists, Khashoggi was killed at the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul in October 2018 and his body was dismembered.
The report stopped short of describing the operation as a mission to kill Khashoggi from the start. “We do not know if these people knew in advance that the operation would result in the death of Khashoggi,” the report said. He did not present any new evidence establishing a direct link between Prince Mohammed and the murder.
Although the results are expected, the assessment by US agencies is embarrassing for Prince Mohammed, who is the daily ruler of the kingdom and has sought to put the murder behind him. This will bring meticulous examination on its autocratic leadership and threatens to strain relations between the United States and one of its traditional Arab allies.
Antony Blinken, US Secretary of State, on Friday released a new visa restriction policy called “Khashoggi Ban” aimed at targeting people working for foreign governments. dissidents abroad. Blinken said the United States had imposed the ban on 76 Saudi people “on suspicion of threatening dissidents abroad, including, but not limited to, the murder of Khashoggi.” The names will not be made public.
The Biden administration faces a complex balance to deliver on the president’s election promise to make Saudi Arabia an “outcast” while maintaining a strategic relationship with the world’s largest oil exporter and an important regional security partner. President Joe Biden’s team is committed to “recalibrating” the relationship.
Almost a year after Khashoggi’s assassination, Prince Mohammed said he had taken “full responsibility” for the murder as “the ruler of Saudi Arabia”. But Riyadh has always sought to characterize the murder as a rogue operation and has denied that Prince Mohammed had any knowledge of it.
The US assessment said it was “highly unlikely that Saudi officials carried out an operation of this nature without the permission of the crown prince”, citing his “absolute control over the kingdom’s security and intelligence organizations” since 2017 .
The report cites 21 Saudi officials who it said “participated in, ordered or were otherwise complicit in or responsible” for the murder of Khashoggi on behalf of Prince Mohammed. Among them were Saud al-Qahtani, who was an advisor to the crown prince and considered by many to be his executor, and Ahmed al-Asiri, who at the time was deputy chief of intelligence.
Qahtani was among 17 Saudis sanctioned by the Trump administration for their alleged role in the operation. The designations did not include Asiri.
After the report was released on Friday, the Treasury announced sanctions against Asiri, subjecting him to a US assets freeze. He also imposed sanctions on the Rapid Intervention Force, an elite personal protection element whose mission is to defend the crown prince.
Donald Trump, the former US president, had backed Prince Mohammed as the murder sparked Saudi Arabia’s biggest diplomatic crisis in years.
Saudi authorities put 11 people on trial for murder and eight were convicted of murder. But their names have never been released under Saudi law, and human rights activists have condemned what they described as a mock trial that cleared the brains. Qahtani and Asiri were cleared of what Saudi authorities said was a lack of evidence.
The White House has previously said Biden will not speak directly to Prince Mohammed, whose direct counterpart is Lloyd Austin, US Secretary of Defense, but is anxious to preserve the relationship of countries.
According to a White House reading of Biden’s first conversation as US president with King Salman, Prince Mohammed’s father, on Thursday, the US leader said he wanted “to make the bilateral relationship as strong and transparent as possible”.
Mark Warner, a Democratic Senator from Virginia who chairs the Special Senate Committee on Intelligence, said after the report was released: “For too long the United States has not held Saudi Arabia responsible for the brutal murder. by journalist, dissident and resident of Virginie Jamal. Khashoggi. ”
Tamara Wittes, an expert colleague at the Brookings Institution said she didn’t think it was a realistic prospect to blacklist the crown prince, but added: “The ball is in the Saudi court to take full responsibility. ”