US: Prince OK’d Khashoggi murder

No direct action taken against Saudi leader

- Deirdre Shesgreen

WASHINGTON – Saudi Arabia’s crown prince and de facto ruler, Mohammed bin Salman, approved an operation “to capture or kill” Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, according to a newly declassifi­ed U.S. intelligen­ce report released Friday.

U.S. intelligen­ce officials based their conclusion on several factors, including the direct involvemen­t of a top Salman adviser in Khashoggi’s murder and “the crown prince’s support for using violent measures to silence dissidents abroad,” the report says.

“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,” says the four-page document released by the Office of the Director of National Intelligen­ce (DNI).

Lawmakers said the report demands a forceful U.S. response – including possible penalties for the crown prince, who is known by his initials as MBS.

“The highest levels of the Saudi government, including Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, are culpable in the murder of journalist and American resident Jamal Khashoggi,” said Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., chairman of the House Intelligen­ce Committee.

“The Biden administra­tion will need to follow this attributio­n of responsibi­lity with serious repercussi­ons against all of the responsibl­e parties it has identified, and also reassess our relationsh­ip with Saudi Arabia,” Schiff said.

The Biden administra­tion signaled it would not take action directly against the crown prince. The State Department said it would use a “Khashoggi ban” to impose visa restrictio­ns “on those who engage in extraterri­torial attacks on journalist­s or activists.”

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the new visa restrictio­n policy would apply to 76 Saudi individual­s believed to have engaged in threatenin­g dissidents overseas, including the Khashoggi killing.

The Treasury Department announced sanctions against Ahmed alAsiri, a high-ranking Saudi military official fired from his position after Khashoggi’s murder.

The crown prince was not targeted in Friday’s actions – a decision Blinken defended as part of a strategy to preserve a pivotal U.S. alliance.

“The relationsh­ip with Saudi Arabia is bigger than any one individual,” Blinken said at a news conference. He reiterated U.S. support for the kingdom’s ability to defend itself.

“And so what we’ve done by the actions that we’ve taken is really not to rupture the relationsh­ip but to recalibrat­e it,” Blinken said.

He argued the release of the intelligen­ce report was itself a significan­t step, shining a “bright light” on Khashoggi’s murder. He said the Biden administra­tion was conducting a review of weapons sales to ensure the United States stopped shipping offensive arms to the kingdom.

A human rights group founded by Khashoggi called on President Joe Biden to slap steep penalties on Salman.

“The Biden administra­tion and other internatio­nal government­s should hold MBS accountabl­e for Khashoggi’s murder by imposing on him the full range of sanctions, including asset freezes,” Democracy for the Arab World Now said in a statement Friday. “The Federal Bureau of Investigat­ion also should open a criminal investigat­ion into the murder of a U.S. resident, as they have of other Americans executed abroad.”

Lawmakers applauded Biden’s initial steps, but they want a more sweeping overhaul of the U.S-Saudi alliance and direct action confrontin­g Saudi Arabia over its human rights record.

“Today the United States government finally acknowledg­ed what the rest of the world has already known: Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman personally approved the operation in which Saudi assassins brutally kidnapped, dismembere­d and murdered journalist and American resident Jamal Khashoggi,” Sen. Bob Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Friday.

“I am hopeful it is only a first step and that the administra­tion plans to take concrete measures holding Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman personally responsibl­e for his role in this heinous crime,” Menendez, D-N.J., said.

The intelligen­ce report was released one day after Biden spoke by phone with the crown prince’s father, Saudi King Salman, billed as a routine conversati­on between heads of state as Biden begins his presidency. A White House summary of the conversati­on made no mention of the Khashoggi killing and said the men discussed the countries’ longstandi­ng partnershi­p.

Khashoggi, a U.S. resident who had been critical of the Saudi ruling family, was killed inside a Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2, 2018.

The crown prince denied he ordered Khashoggi’s killing. Saudi officials acknowledg­ed that operatives from the kingdom carried out the killing, but portrayed it as a rogue operation gone awry.

In 2019, a court in Saudi Arabia sentenced five people to death for Khashoggi’s slaying, but it placed no blame on the royal family.

The DNI report notes that a 15-member Saudi team that arrived in Istanbul on Oct. 2, 2018, included seven members of the crown prince’s “elite personal protective detail, known as the Rapid Interventi­on Force (RIF). The RIF ... 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.”

“We judge that members of the RIF would not have participat­ed in the operation against Khashoggi without … Salman’s approval,” the report says.

Intelligen­ce officials noted that MBS viewed Khashoggi as a threat to the kingdom and supported silencing him.

“Although Saudi officials had preplanned an unspecifie­d operation against Khashoggi, we do not know how far in advance Saudi officials decided to harm him,” the report says.

The Trump administra­tion refused to release the unclassifi­ed report on Khashoggi’s murder, even though it was mandated by Congress. President Donald Trump and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, cultivated close ties with the royal family, and Salman in particular.

Trump refused to publicly condemn the Saudi leader’s role in Khashoggi’s death.

“It could very well be that the crown prince had knowledge of this tragic event – maybe he did and maybe he didn’t!” Trump said in a statement nearly two months after the killing. “The world is a very dangerous place!”

During closed-door briefings, CIA Director Gina Haspel told members of Congress that the crown prince directed Khashoggi’s killing.

After Khashoggi’s killing, lawmakers in both parties pushed for a reassessme­nt of the U.S.-Saudi alliance, voting to ban some weapons sales to the kingdom. Trump nixed those efforts, but Biden signaled a willingnes­s to be more confrontat­ional with the Saudis.

Rep. Tom Malinowski, D-N.J., who crafted the legislatio­n mandating the DNI report, said he wanted “a clear statement by the U.S. government that (MBS) was responsibl­e” as a form of accountabi­lity. The provision required the DNI to provide Congress with a list of all Saudi officials responsibl­e for Khashoggi’s death.

Malinowski said he hoped the report would spur a debate about the crown prince’s leadership.

“This is about holding individual­s accountabl­e and sending a signal to the Saudi leadership that perhaps giving this one reckless individual absolute power for the next 50 years might not be the best idea,” he said last year.

In 2019, a top United Nations expert on extrajudic­ial executions similarly found “credible evidence” that high-level officials in Saudi Arabia – including MBS – were involved in Khashoggi’s death.

The U.N. investigat­ion, led by Agnes Callamard, provided snippets of conversati­on between Khashoggi and his Saudi killers. Callamard urged the U.S. government to open an FBI investigat­ion into Khashoggi’s slaying and pursue criminal prosecutio­ns in the USA for those responsibl­e, among other steps.

“The Biden administra­tion will need to follow this ... with serious repercussi­ons against all of the responsibl­e parties it has identified.” Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif.

 ?? LEFTERIS PITARAKIS/AP ?? A mural in Istanbul depicts slain journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was killed inside a Saudi consulate in the Turkish city.
LEFTERIS PITARAKIS/AP A mural in Istanbul depicts slain journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was killed inside a Saudi consulate in the Turkish city.
 ??  ?? Salman

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