Prince was con­tacted be­fore and af­ter killing

In­tel­li­gence said to show cru­cial mes­sage flow on day of Khashoggi’s death

The Washington Post Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - BY SHANE HAR­RIS AND SOUAD MEKHEN­NET

In the hours be­fore and af­ter jour­nal­ist Ja­mal Khashoggi was killed inside the Saudi Con­sulate in Is­tan­bul, Saudi Crown Prince Mo­hammed bin Sal­man and a se­nior aide who al­legedly over­saw the as­sas­si­na­tion ex­changed mul­ti­ple mes­sages, ac­cord­ing to peo­ple fa­mil­iar with the mat­ter.

The com­mu­ni­ca­tions be­tween the two men are an­other piece of ev­i­dence ty­ing the crown prince to the killing of Khashoggi, a for­mer palace in­sider turned prominent critic, who also was a con­tribut­ing colum­nist to The Wash­ing­ton Post.

The CIA in­cluded the ex­is­tence of the mes­sages in its clas­si­fied as­sess­ment that Mo­hammed is likely to have or­dered Khashoggi’s death, a view that agency of­fi­cials have shared with mem­bers of Con­gress and the White House.

Mo­hammed ex­changed the mes­sages on Oct. 2 with Saud al-Qah­tani, one of his clos­est aides and a fierce pub­lic sup­porter who has kept a black­list of those he deems dis­loyal to the king­dom. The con­tent of the mes­sages, and what form the mes­sages took, was not known, ac­cord­ing to peo­ple fa­mil­iar with

the mat­ter.

Cit­ing por­tions of the CIA’s writ­ten as­sess­ment, the Wall Street Jour­nal first re­ported on Satur­day that Mo­hammed had sent at least 11 mes­sages to Qah­tani be­fore and af­ter the killing.

The CIA has rated its as­sess­ment that Mo­hammed was in­volved in the killing at “medi­umto-high con­fi­dence,” and pri­vate- ly, of­fi­cials have said it is in­con­ceiv­able that the prince, who ex­er­cises to­tal au­thor­ity over the gov­ern­ment, could not have known about such an au­da­cious op­er­a­tion. The Post had pre­vi­ously de­scribed of­fi­cials as say­ing that the CIA had high con­fi­dence in its as­sess­ment.

“The ac­cepted position is that there is no way this hap­pened with­out him be­ing aware or in­volved,” said a U.S. of­fi­cial fa­mil­iar with the CIA’s con­clu­sions. CIA has de­clined to com­ment, and peo­ple fa­mil­iar with the in­tel­li­gence said the agency has not found any sin­gle piece of ev­i­dence that ir­refutably links Mo­hammed di­rectly to the killing.

Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials on Sun­day con­tin­ued to stress that point and em­pha­sized the im­por­tance of the United States main­tain­ing a close re­la­tion­ship with Saudi Ara­bia. The king­dom has ac­knowl­edged that its op­er­a­tives killed Khashoggi, but it says the op­er­a­tion was not au­tho­rized by the crown prince and was un­der­taken by rogue ac­tors.

“I have read ev­ery piece of in­tel­li­gence that is in the pos­ses­sion of the United States gov­ern­ment,” Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo said in an in­ter­view with CNN on Satur­day, “and when it is done, when you com­plete that anal­y­sis, there’s no di­rect ev­i­dence link­ing him to the mur­der of Ja­mal Khashoggi.”

Pom­peo, who de­clined to com­ment on the CIA’s clas­si­fied as­sess­ment, said the United States was work­ing closely with Saudi Ara­bia on ma­jor for­eign pol­icy is­sues, in­clud­ing Afghanistan, and that the king­dom was a vi­tal re­gional coun­ter­weight to Iran.

“They are a re­la­tion­ship that has mat­tered for 70 years across Repub­li­can and Demo­crat ad­min­is­tra­tions alike,” said Pom­peo, who pre­vi­ously served as the CIA di­rec­tor. “It re­mains an im­por­tant re­la­tion­ship, and we’re aim­ing to keep that re­la­tion­ship with the King­dom of Saudi Ara­bia.”

Sec­re­tary of De­fense Jim Mat­tis said the ques­tion of hold­ing the killers re­spon­si­ble and the strate­gic im­por­tance of the U.S.-Saudi re­la­tion­ship were sep­a­rate is­sues.

“Ac­count­abil­ity for the mur­der of Khashoggi stands alone. It is dis­tinct from any other fac­tor go­ing on,” Mat­tis said in re­marks at the Rea­gan Na­tional De­fense Fo­rum in Cal­i­for­nia.

“Right now, we do not have a smok­ing gun,” he said, not­ing that he had seen all the lat­est in­tel­li­gence in the mat­ter as of Fri­day. “We do not have a smok­ing gun [show­ing] that the crown prince was in­volved. We cer­tainly need to con­tinue to ex­plore . . . all as­pects of the mur­der and find any­one who was in­volved, but that should not in any way dis­suade us from ba­si­cally con­front The ing Iran,” which the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion views as its ma­jor ad­ver­sary in the Mid­dle East and one that Saudi Ara­bia is es­sen­tial to con­fronting.

Qah­tani has emerged as a key player in the killing and a com­pelling link to the prince. He shows up in an­other por­tion of the CIA’s as­sess­ment: An al­leged mem­ber of the Saudi hit team that U.S. and Turk­ish of­fi­cials said Qah­tani over­saw, Ma­her Mutreb, called Qah­tani from inside the con­sulate to in­form him Khashoggi was dead, The Post has pre­vi­ously re­ported. Mutreb, a se­cu­rity of­fi­cial who was of­ten at the crown prince’s side, is seen on se­cu­rity cam­era footage en­ter­ing and leav­ing the con­sulate on the day Khashoggi was killed.

The U.S. in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity also has in­ter­cepts of com­mu­ni­ca­tions be­fore Khashoggi was killed that show Mo­hammed had or­dered an op­er­a­tion to lure him back to Saudi Ara­bia. Friends of Khashoggi’s have said that Qah­tani called the jour­nal­ist and raised the po­ten­tial of his work­ing for the crown prince if he would end his self-im­posed ex­ile in Vir­ginia and re­turn to his na­tive coun­try.

Com­mu­ni­ca­tions that the United States in­ter­cepted in July show that Mo­hammed had asked se­nior Saudi in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials about the sta­tus of a plan to lure Khashoggi back to Saudi Ara­bia, ac­cord­ing to one in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cial.

Pres­i­dent Trump, who also has been briefed on the CIA’s find­ings, has been equiv­o­cal in as­sign­ing blame to the crown prince, who works closely with the pres­i­dent’s son-in-law and se­nior ad­viser Jared Kush­ner on Mid­dle East is­sues.

“Maybe he did or maybe he didn’t!” Trump said in a state­ment last month, adding that the true cul­prits might never be known. The pres­i­dent has said that the strate­gic re­la­tion­ship with Saudi Ara­bia and the ben­e­fit to the U.S. econ­omy from Saudi arms pur­chases are too im­por­tant to rup­ture over the killing of Khashoggi, which he has con­demned.

But the lat­est rev­e­la­tion of in­tel­li­gence con­nect­ing Mo­hammed and his aide Qah­tani to the killing may in­crease pres­sure on the ad­min­is­tra­tion to take more puni­tive steps.

The Trea­sury Depart­ment has sanc­tioned 17 in­di­vid­u­als it said were in­volved in Khashoggi’s death, in­clud­ing Qah­tani, Mutreb and the Saudi con­sul gen­eral in Turkey, Mo­ham­mad al-Otaibi. But some mem­bers of Con­gress have called for fur­ther ac­tion, and Repub­li­cans have be­gun de­fect­ing from the ad­min­is­tra­tion over its sup­port for the Saudis.

Last week, in a re­buke of Saudi Ara­bia and the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s han­dling of the Khashoggi case, a ma­jor­ity of the Se­nate voted to ad­vance a mea­sure to end U.S. mil­i­tary sup­port to Saudi Ara­bia for its war in Ye­men against Ira­nian-backed mil­i­tants.

“The ac­cepted position is that there is no way this hap­pened with­out him be­ing aware.” U.S. of­fi­cial fa­mil­iar with the CIA’s views on the Saudi crown prince and the killing of Ja­mal Khashoggi

LEFTERIS PITARAKIS/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

A memo­rial for slain jour­nal­ist Ja­mal Khashoggi sits out­side the Saudi Con­sulate in Is­tan­bul in Oc­to­ber, where the Wash­ing­ton Post con­tribut­ing colum­nist was last seen en­ter­ing two months ago.

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