In­sid­ers see mo­tives for Saudis to kill jour­nal­ist Tan­gled his­tory put Khashoggi in crosshairs

The Washington Times Weekly - - Geopolitic­s - BY GUY TAY­LOR

The pre­vail­ing nar­ra­tive about the bizarre case of U.S.-based Saudi jour­nal­ist Ja­mal Khashoggi is that Saudi Ara­bia’s hard-charg­ing young crown prince or­dered him kid­napped and per­haps killed in or­der to si­lence a par­tic­u­larly ef­fec­tive critic who wrote widely read, dis­parag­ing columns about the royal fam­ily and the crown prince’s own am­bi­tious re­form agenda.

But Mid­dle East in­sid­ers say some deeper sub­plots played into Mr. Khashoggi’s dis­ap­pear­ance — stem­ming from his long ca­reer of po­lit­i­cal ac­tivism, ties to Saudi in­tel­li­gence and Mr. Khashoggi’s past re­la­tion­ship with the Is­lamist group the Mus­lim Brother­hood.

Mr. Khashoggi, who was 59 when he dis­ap­peared at the Saudi Con­sulate in Is­tan­bul on Oct. 2, is said to have with­drawn years ago from any for­mal af­fil­i­a­tion with the Brother­hood, but his past ties to the transna­tional Is­lamist group are be­lieved to have been a source of dis­trust for Saudi Crown Prince Mo­hammed bin Sal­man.

The 33-year-old prince branded the Brother­hood a ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tion, and one of his sig­na­ture moves as heir to the Saudi throne was to cut off all ties with the ri­val Gulf na­tion of Qatar. The prince blames Doha for fi­nanc­ing the Mus­lim Brother­hood to fo­ment un­rest against the pow­ers that be across the Arab world, in par­tic­u­lar Saudi Ara­bia.

Since leav­ing Saudi Ara­bia for self­im­posed ex­ile in the U.S. last year, Mr. Khashoggi has worked to cre­ate an ad­vo­cacy group called Democ­racy for the Arab World Now (DAWN) to pro­mote Arab Spring-style free­dom move­ments across the Mid­dle East.

Some say Mo­hammed, who has a rep­u­ta­tion for quickly iden­ti­fy­ing and crush­ing any threats to his au­thor­ity, was well aware of Mr. Khashoggi’s po­lit­i­cal ac­tiv­i­ties and likely more con­cerned about them than his jour­nal­is­tic ef­forts as a colum­nist for The Wash­ing­ton Post.

Long­time re­gional an­a­lyst and for­mer Wall Street Jour­nal pub­lisher Karen El­liott House said in the news­pa­per this week: “Those who watch the crown prince closely say he is de­ter­mined to pre-empt any hint of pos­si­ble dis­rup­tion be­fore it can ma­te­ri­al­ize.

“So Mr. Khashoggi’s de­ci­sion to reg­is­ter in the U.S. a new po­lit­i­cal or­ga­ni­za­tion, per­haps funded by Saudi re­gional ri­vals, might have trig­gered this ac­tion,” wrote Ms. House, who is also the au­thor of an in­flu­en­tial 2012 book on Saudi Ara­bia.

The New York Times, cit­ing in­ter­views with long­time friends of Mr. Khashoggi, re­ported that he was in the midst of rais­ing money for DAWN when he dis­ap­peared in Tur­key, whose own gov­ern­ment is a ri­val to Saudi Ara­bia in the Mus­lim world and has close ties to Qatar and to the Mus­lim Brother­hood.

Qatar has not com­mented on claims by Turk­ish of­fi­cials that Mr. Khashoggi was killed by a Saudi “hit squad.” The crown prince, mean­while, has de­nied any knowl­edge of what hap­pened and has pledged to sup­port a trans­par­ent in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the jour­nal­ist’s dis­ap­pear­ance.

Meet­ing bin Laden

Mr. Khashoggi had a long and var­ied ca­reer in Saudi af­fairs be­fore he be­came a U.S.-based opin­ion writer, in­clud­ing work­ing on and off for the Saudi gov­ern­ment.

The Khashoggi name was well-known in U.S. gov­ern­ment cir­cles long be­fore Ja­mal Khashoggi came onto the scene. His un­cle Ad­nan Khashoggi was a noted global arms dealer im­pli­cated in the Rea­gan ad­min­is­tra­tion’s Iran-Con­tra scan­dal.

Mr. Khashoggi re­port­edly en­gaged in oc­ca­sional work for Saudi in­tel­li­gence dur­ing the era of Prince Turki al-Faisal, who headed Riyadh’s spy agen­cies from 1979 un­til just be­fore the ter­ror­ist at­tacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

As a younger man in Saudi Ara­bia, Mr. Khashoggi con­sid­ered him­self a mem­ber of the Mus­lim Brother­hood, which an­a­lysts of­ten de­scribe as a foun­da­tional group be­hind the emer­gence of al Qaeda.

In his 30s, Mr. Khashoggi drew in­ter­na­tional at­ten­tion for in­ter­view­ing Osama bin Laden. Ac­cord­ing to the 2007 book “The Loom­ing Tower: Al Qaeda and the Road to 9/11,” Mr. Khashoggi met with the emerg­ing ter­ror­ist leader in Sudan in 1995 and pres­sured him to dis­avow vi­o­lence.

“I was aware of Ja­mal for many years, dur­ing his ten­ure as a re­porter and edi­tor,” Warren David, the founder of the U.S.-based me­dia or­ga­ni­za­tion Arab Amer­ica, wrote on the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s web­site.

Mr. David de­scribed Mr. Khashoggi as a “man of prin­ci­ple and in­tegrity” who be­lieved in the pro­mo­tion of democ­racy in the Arab world and as some­one steeped in the chal­lenges of nav­i­gat­ing the tu­mul­tuous me­dia scene in Saudi Ara­bia and across the Mid­dle East.

“Ja­mal could speak from ex­pe­ri­ence. He was the edi­tor-in-chief of the Al-Arab News Chan­nel, owned by Saudi prince and phi­lan­thropist, Al Waleed bin Talal Ab­du­laziz al Saud,” Mr. David wrote. “Af­ter the Arab Spring up­ris­ings of 2011, Prince Waleed founded the chan­nel which would fo­cus on free­dom of speech and demo­cratic me­dia.

“In Fe­bru­ary of 2015, Al-Arab News Chan­nel de­buted in Bahrain un­der the lead­er­ship of Ja­mal Khashoggi. On the first day of broad­cast, the op­po­si­tion leader of Bahrain’s up­ris­ings was in­ter­viewed,” wrote Mr. David. “Shock­ingly, within a cou­ple of hours, the chan­nel’s clo­sure was an­nounced. Af­ter search­ing for a new lo­ca­tion, and se­cur­ing a home for the net­work in Qatar, Ja­mal was ready to ini­ti­ate broad­cast­ing with the new net­work but was in­formed by Prince Al Waleed in Fe­bru­ary 2017 that the chan­nel would never open.”

‘Putin-style’ whack­ing?

While Mr. Khashoggi of­ten and iron­i­cally ex­pressed sup­port for the crown prince’s so­cial and eco­nomic re­forms, he made no se­cret of his dis­gust with Mo­hammed’s crack­down of per­ceived crit­ics.

“With young Crown Prince Mo­hammed bin Sal­man’s rise to power, he … spoke of mak­ing our coun­try more open and tol­er­ant,” Mr. Khashoggi wrote in Septem­ber 2017. “But all I see now is the re­cent wave of ar­rests. … The ar­rested are ac­cused of be­ing re­cip­i­ents of Qatari money and part of a grand Qatari-backed con­spir­acy.”

Al­though the columns were of­ten crit­i­cal, an­a­lysts are at a loss to ex­plain why the Saudi lead­er­ship would risk geopo­lit­i­cal blow­back and the strains on U.S.-Saudi ties that would re­sult from an op­er­a­tion to kidnap or kill him. Many say Crown Prince Mo­hammed sim­ply un­der­es­ti­mated the re­ac­tion the mis­sion would spark.

Mr. Khashoggi’s “ties to the Mus­lim Brother­hood do not seem to have in­volved any links to ex­trem­ism,” said An­thony Cordes­man, an an­a­lyst at the Cen­ter for Strate­gic and In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies. “His crit­i­cisms of the Saudi gov­ern­ment seem to have been lim­ited to the kinds of re­forms the king­dom will even­tu­ally have to make.

“In fact, a more en­light­ened and prag­matic Saudi crown prince might have seen them as ac­tu­ally help­ing in the near term by act­ing as a coun­ter­weight to the hard­line Saudi con­ser­va­tives that chal­lenge ev­ery [re­form],” Mr. Cordes­man wrote.

But oth­ers say Mr. Khashoggi crossed a line in his columns for The Post.

David Ot­t­away, a Mid­dle East fel­low at the Wil­son Cen­ter who knew Mr. Khashoggi for more than 20 years, wrote in The Post that “Khashoggi’s unpardonab­le sin was to call for de­bate not about the crown prince’s so­cial re­forms, which he whole­heart­edly sup­ported, but about the crown prince’s sti­fling in­tol­er­ance for any­one who cast even a speck of dirt on his highly pol­ished im­age as the king­dom’s long-awaited sav­ior.”

But sources close to the Saudi gov­ern­ment in­sist the crown prince would never go so far as to or­der an as­sas­si­na­tion.

“Saudi pol­icy to­ward a critic like this is al­ways to buy peo­ple off, try to bring them back into the fold,” one source told The Wash­ing­ton Times. “An act like this is to­tally out of char­ac­ter for the royal fam­ily. If it hap­pened, it would be be­cause it was a to­tal [mis­take] by some peo­ple and there will be con­se­quences.”

Still oth­ers say the prince is a new kind of leader for the tra­di­tion-bound, hi­er­ar­chi­cal king­dom, one who drew global at­ten­tion last year by en­gi­neer­ing a nearly three-month-long house ar­rest of dozens of fel­low princes and lead­ing busi­ness fig­ure, in­clud­ing sev­eral older rel­a­tives within the royal fam­ily.


Saudi jour­nal­ist Ja­mal Khashoggi was last seen en­ter­ing the Saudi Con­sulate in Is­tan­bul on Oct. 2. In­sid­ers say Riyadh his­tor­i­cally has used money rather than force against tar­gets, but Crown Prince Mo­hammed bin Sal­man has ush­ered in a new era.


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