Saudi Arabia’s crown prince is likely to have approved an operation to kill or capture a US-based journalist inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, according to a newly-declassified intelligence report.
The declassified report said: “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.
Contributed to mostly by the CIA, it added: “We base this assessment on the Crown Prince’s control of decision making 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
Mr Khashoggi disappeared in October that year after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, where he is believed to have been killed and his body dismembered.
His remains have never been found.
In 2019, the prince said he took “full responsibility” for the killing since it happened on his watch, but denied giving the order.
Riyadh maintains the Washington Post columnist was killed as part of a “rogue” extradition operation that went wrong, saying there was no involvement from the crown prince, who is the de facto ruler, and whose policies were often criticised in Mr Khashoggi’s articles.
The release of the declassified report on Friday is expected to mark a significant shift in US-Saudi relations – President Joe Biden has promised to steer toward a more traditional approach, unlike the cosy relationship observed with Donald Trump.
Under the former administration, Mr Trump stayed close with the Saudis, giving the major oil producer a relaxed ride on human rights issues, its role in the Yemen war, and more.
He also rejected calls from politicians and human rights groups to release the then-classified report in 2018 when it was first briefed to Congress.
This was said to be a bid to maintain ties with his Arab ally as tensions increased with Iran – the Saudi’s rival in the region – as well as wanting to promote US arms sales.
Changing the approach, Mr Biden held his first phone conversation with Saudi King Salman on Thursday – a later courtesy call than usual after taking office in January, which is said to be a reflection of his displeasure.
There was no mention, however, of Mr Khashoggi’s murder in the report from the White House after the call.
It said Mr Biden had discussed the “longstanding partnership” between the US and Saudi Arabia and welcomed the recent release of an advocate for women’s rights and some of its other political detainees.
In other moves since taking office to realign ties, Mr Biden has ended offensive arm sales for weapons that could be used in Yemen.
He has also appointed a special envoy to help diplomatic efforts to bring an end to the Yemeni civil war.
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