US releases intelligence report on Khashoggi murder

US releases intelligence report on Khashoggi murder

The American Central Intelligence Agency has released a declassified report implicating Saudi Crown Prince, Muhammad bin Salman (pictured) in the murder of journalist Jamal Khasoggi three years later.

Dated February 11, 2021, the report explicitly says the Prince, famously known as MBS, approved an operation in Istanbul, Turkey to capture or kill Khasoggi, whose criticism of the kingdom was considered mild by commentators.

Khasoggi was murdered on 2nd October, 2018 at Saudi Arabia consulate in Istanbul where he went with his fiancé to process documents reportedly for their wedding. His body was dismembered and was never seen since he entered the consulate.

It was hardly a fitting epitaph for one of the Arab world’s best-known journalists—three pages of dry, bureaucratic prose that revealed nothing new. On February 26th America released an intelligence report on the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, who was killed by the Saudi government in October 2018. The report should have been published two years earlier, but was blocked by the administration of Donald Trump, in a brazen effort to shield Saudi Arabia from the consequences.

By the time the CIA assessment finally emerged it was an anticlimax, its conclusions already known: America believes Muhammad bin Salman, the kingdom’s crown prince and de facto ruler, approved the operation to capture or kill Mr Khashoggi. The consequences were underwhelming as well. America announced sanctions, including asset freezes, on a Saudi official, Ahmed al-Asiri, who was implicated in the murder plot; it also imposed visa bans on scores of Saudis accused of targeting dissidents. There were no sanctions for the crown prince, who has previously denied ordering the killing, just the promise of a difficult relationship with President Joe Biden.

Mr Khashoggi’s murder captured the world’s attention as few crimes do. In part that was because of his stature as a veteran journalist, a man acquainted with almost everyone who worked on the Middle East, among them diplomats, journalists and analysts. And the details of the crime were grisly. He entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul seeking paperwork for his upcoming wedding and never emerged. For days the Saudis insisted they knew nothing of his whereabouts. In fact, he was murdered inside the consulate, suffocated and his body sawn into pieces by a squad of assassins flown in on private jets. One member of the team even played the role of body double, dressing in Mr Khashoggi’s clothes and walking past surveillance cameras on Istanbul’s streets to make it appear that he had departed safely.

This has all been public knowledge since 2018. The CIA quickly assigned blame to Prince Muhammad, and that conclusion leaked out. Turkey, a rival of Saudi Arabia, eagerly fed details of its own investigation to journalists. The newly-released American report, issued by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, adds no new information. It offers no hard evidence of Prince Muhammad’s culpability, for example.

Instead, it cites circumstantial details such as his control of the Saudi security apparatus and the involvement of a close adviser. “It [is] highly unlikely that Saudi officials would have carried out an operation of this nature without the crown prince’s authorisation,” the report concludes.