Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the country’s de-facto ruler, said back in 2017 that he would use “a bullet” on journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a New York Times report said, citing US intelligence officials with knowledge of intercepted communications between the crown prince and a senior Saudi aide.
The US National Security Agency and other government intelligence outfits discovered the conversation while investigating years of bin Salman’s text and voice communications, said the NYT report.
According to the NYT report on Thursday, the crown prince spoke with a top aide named Turki Aldakhil about Khashoggi in September 2017. The two Saudis apparently expressed concern that Khashoggi’s writings were tarnishing the government’s image.
Bin Salman, commonly known as MBS, reportedly told Aldakhil that if Khashoggi refused to return to Saudi Arabia willingly, then he should somehow be forced back. MBS then allegedly added if neither of those panned out, he would take out Khashoggi with “a bullet”, officials familiar with the conversation told the NYT.
While US intelligence officials stressed to the NYT that MBS may not have meant those words in a literal sense, they said it indicates that the crown prince had expressed a desire to see the Washington Post journalist dead.
Days after MBS spoke with Aldakhil, the country’s de-facto ruler talked with Saud al-Qahtani, the intelligence officials told NYT. Qahtani has been identified by US intelligence agencies as the ringleader of the Khashoggi murder plot and Saudi Arabia has removed him from his post as an adviser to the royal court.
According to officials with knowledge of this particular conversation, MBS chastised Qahtani after the aide warned against making any move that might cause an international outcry.
“Saudi Arabia should not care about international reaction to how it handles its own citizens, the crown prince told Mr. al-Qahtani,” the NYT report said, citing the intelligence officials.
MBS allegedly told Qahtani that he “did not like half-measures — he never liked them and did not believe in them,” an intelligence official told NYT.
CIA assessment vs. Trump
The CIA had previously concluded with high confidence that MBS ordered the assassination, but the details of the intelligence agency’s probe have not been made public.
Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist who was critical of bin Salman, was murdered by Saudi government agents as he visited his country’s consulate in Istanbul on 2 October 2018 to retrieve personal paperwork.
Saudi officials initially insisted that Khashoggi left the building unharmed, but acknowledged weeks later that the journalist was killed.
Still, Riyadh has consistently maintained that bin Salman was not involved in the murder – an assertion that has been met with scepticism from political analysts, intelligence officials, journalists and US lawmakers, who say such an operation could not have been authorised without his approval.
US President Donald Trump has reiterated the Saudi denials and countered the CIA’s assessment, refusing to denounce MBS.
Earlier on Thursday, a United Nations-led investigation into Khashoggi’s killing has placed blame on Saudi officials for the “brutal and premeditated” murder.
The UN’s expert on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Agnes Callamard, said Khashoggi “was the victim of a brutal and premeditated killing, planned and perpetrated by officials of the State of Saudi Arabia”.
Callamard did not name any specific Saudi state officials in her statement.[source: Middle East Monitor]