Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman wanted the planned murder for outspoken journalist Jamal Khashoggi to be as brutal as it was, says a former high-profile American intelligence officer.
Ali Soufan, a former FBI agent, told German weekly Der Siegel on Saturday that the way Khashoggi was murdered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, on October 2, had to be an epitome of a brutal assassination because the man behind the murder wanted to use it as a message.
“He (bin Salman) wanted it as brutal as it was to send a message. He thought he would get away with it,” said Soufan in an interview published on Spiegel's website.
Soufan, who has been involved in several notable anti-terrorism operations both in the United States and around the world, said bin Salman, also known as MbS, wanted to make it understood through Khashoggi’s murder that whoever opposed him would pay the costs.
“Now, we are getting into the head of dictators and authoritarians,” he said, adding, “MbS wanted to send a message. And this message is: If you oppose me I will get you whoever you are, wherever you are.”
Bin Salman, only in his early 30s, is believed to be eagerly seeking to accede the throne in Saudi Arabia and replace his ailing father King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud. The young prince launched a sweeping crackdown against his rivals and opponents last year when he ordered the arrest of key royal figures inside a hotel in Riyadh.
Since the very early hours of Khashoggi’s disappearance, many pointed the finger to bin Salman, saying the crown prince had clear motives to kill the journalist. Later revelations in the Turkish media showed that a 15-member hit squad, among them members of bin Salman’s personal guard, had carried out the murder inside the Saudi consulate.
Soufan said Khashoggi had posed a direct threat to bin Salman through his writings and speeches in the West and the Saudi prince was eagerly seeking his elimination.
“ ... he (Khashoggi) did not believe in MbS' reckless ways and he was vocal about his criticisms, both in person and in his Washington Post columns. Someone like Jamal is threatening to someone like MbS,” said e former intelligence officer.
Soufan highlighted the fact that if bin Salman is proven guilty of Khashoggi’s murder, he would lose his credibility as a young reformer for good, adding that the case will certainly impact the future relations between the United States and Saudi Arabia.
“MbS flushed down all the millions of dollars spent on PR firms and lobbying groups to craft his image as a reformer. His credibility on the world stage will be lost,” he said, adding. “Yet, if it's true that Jamal was murdered and dismembered by an order from the crown prince, that (US-Saudi) relationship will never be the same.”