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US says Saudi crown prince ordered, directed gruesome killing of Jamal Khashoggi

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman

A declassified US intelligence report has revealed that Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman – known by his initials as MBS – has ordered and directed the gruesome killing of Saudi opposition journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Khashoggi, a former advocate of the Saudi royal court who later became a critic of bin Salman, was killed after being lured into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, on October 2, 2018, and his body was dismembered by a Saudi hit squad.

The Saudi government initially claimed Khashoggi left the consulate on that day, but Riyadh later said that, allegedly after a thorough investigation into the case, it had reached the conclusion that he had been killed by a “rogue” group and not by direct order from the crown prince, who is seen as the de facto ruler of the Arab kingdom.

Despite official denials by Riyadh, some Western governments, as well as the CIA, said they believed MBS ordered the assassination, which caused an international uproar against Saudi Arabia.

On Friday, the US Office of the Director of National Intelligence said in the report, dated February 11, that MBS approved the operation to eliminate Khashoggi.

“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,” said the newly declassified US intelligence report, which was submitted to the US Congress.

“Since 2017, the crown prince has had absolute control of the kingdom's security and intelligence organizations, making it highly unlikely that Saudi officials would have carried out an operation of this nature without the crown prince's authorization,” further stressed the four-page document.

Upon releasing the long-awaited document, US Secretary of State Tony Blinken announced a new “Khashoggi Ban,” which includes visa restrictions on 76 Saudi individuals believed to be involved in “threatening dissidents overseas, including but not limited to the Khashoggi killing.”

The top American diplomat stressed that those Saudi nationals, whose names were not disclosed, would not be allowed to visit the US.

However, when asked why Washington did not impose a cost on MBS, Blinken said the administration of US President Joe Biden was looking to “recalibrate” the US-Saudi relationship instead of “rupture” it.

A few hours after the release of the US intelligence report on Khashoggi, Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement and categorically rejected the report’s findings.

“The government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia completely rejects the negative, false and unacceptable assessment in the report pertaining to the kingdom’s leadership, and notes that the report contained inaccurate information and conclusions,” it said.

Riyadh also repeated the same old claims, saying that the gruesome murder “was committed by a group of individuals that have transgressed all pertinent regulations and authorities of the agencies where they were employed.”

This is while that the US intelligence report stressed that “the 15-member” Saudi hit squad at least included “seven members of Mohammed bin Salman’s elite personal protective detail, known as the Rapid Intervention Force (RIF). The RIF -- a subset of the Saudi Royal Guard -- exists to defend the crown prince, answers only to him, and had directly participated in earlier dissident suppression operations in the kingdom and abroad at the crown prince’s direction.”

Separately on Friday, UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions, Agnes Callamard, said that based on the new report, Washington should take the lead in ensuring accountability for this crime.

“With the release of the US report, confirming Saudi officials’ culpability at the highest levels, the United States should now take the lead in ensuring accountability for this crime and for setting in place the international mechanisms to prevent and punish such acts in the future,” she said on Facebook.

The US government should impose sanctions on MBS, as it has done for other culprits behind the crime, by targeting the crown prince’s “personal assets but also his international engagements,” she added.

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