The CIA has concluded that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul, US media reported on Friday, a finding that contradicts Saudi government assertions that he was not involved.
According to the Washington Post, who first reported the CIA conclusion, US officials expressed high confidence in the CIA assessment, which is the most definitive to date linking bin Salman to the killing and complicates President Donald Trump’s efforts to preserve ties with one of the closest US allies in the region.
Both the Washington Post and the Associated Press cited unnamed officials familiar with the CIA conclusion.
The accuracy of the reports could not be immediately verified.
The White House declined to comment on the Post report, saying it was an intelligence matter. The State Department and the CIA also declined to comment.
Khashoggi, a contributing columnist for the Washington Post, was killed at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2 when he went there to pick up documents he needed for his planned marriage.
A critic of the Saudi government, Khashoggi had resisted pressure from Riyadh for him to return home.
Saudi Arabia initially rejected its officials were behind the killing, but as Turkish authorities continued to leak evidence of high-level involvement, Riyadh eventually admitted its agents carried out the killing with a series of contradictory explanations.
Turkish officials have said the killing was intentional and have been pressuring Saudi Arabia to extradite those responsible to stand trial. An adviser to Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday accused Saudi Arabia of trying to cover up the murder.
His remarks came after Shaalan al-Shaalan, Saudi Arabia’s deputy public prosecutor, said he was seeking the death penalty for five suspects charged in Khashoggi’s killing. Al-Shaalan told reporters the Saudi crown prince knew nothing of the operation, in which Khashoggi’s body was dismembered and removed from the consulate.
‘Assurances given to Khashoggi’
In Friday’s report, the Washington Post, citing people familiar with the matter, said the CIA reached its conclusions after examining multiple sources of intelligence, including a phone call that the prince’s brother, Khalid bin Salman, the Saudi ambassador to the US, had with Khashoggi.
Khalid told Khashoggi he should go to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to retrieve the documents and gave him assurances that it would be safe to do so, the Post said.
The newspaper, citing individuals familiar with the call, said it was not clear if Khalid knew Khashoggi would be killed but that he made the call at his brother’s direction.
Ambassador Khalid bin Salman said in a Twitter post on Friday the last contact he had with Khashoggi was via text on October 26, 2017, nearly a year before the journalist’s death.
“I never talked to him by phone and certainly never suggested he go to Turkey for any reason. I ask the US government to release any information regarding this claim,” he tweeted.
The ambassador posted a second tweet, which he said included the embassy’s full response to the Washington Post report.
In it, an embassy spokesperson said the “claims in this purported assessment are false”.
“We have and continue to hear various theories without seeing the primary basis for these speculations,” the spokesperson added.
The reports come a day after the US sanctioned 17 Saudi nationals allegedly involved in Khashoggi’s murder, including bin Salman’s top aide, Saud al-Qahtani.
Many US politicians welcomed the sanctions, but said they did not go far enough and that bin Salman should be included.
Separately on Thursday, a bipartisan group of US senators introduced legislation seeking to punish Saudi Arabia over Khashoggi’s killing and for the kingdom’s role in the devastating war in Yemen.