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US intelligence report finds Saudi Crown Prince responsible for approving operation that killed journalist Khashoggi

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman approved the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, according to a U.S. intelligence report released on Friday, February 26. 

“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,” the report’s executive summary states.

“We base this assessment on the Crown Prince’s control of decision-making in the Kingdom, the direct involvement of a key adviser and members of Muhammad bin Salman’s protective detail in the operation, and the Crown Prince’s support for using violent measures to silence dissidents abroad, including Khashoggi,” the report says.

The report builds on classified intelligence from the CIA and other agencies after Khashoggi’s murder in October 2018 inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

The Biden administration gave the green light for the long-awaited declassified intelligence report compiled by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to be made public on Friday.

The congress mandated release of the report followed a phone call President Joe Biden had with Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud on Thursday, CNN reports. 

 The four-page report, titled “Assessing the Saudi Government’s Role in the Killing of Jamal Khashoggi” is dated February 11 and marked as declassified by Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines on February 25.

The report notes bin Salman’s “absolute control” of Saudi intelligence and security operations.

“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,” the report says.

It says that the 15-person Saudi team that arrived in Istanbul in October 2018 when Khashoggi was killed included members associated with the Saudi Center for Studies and Media Affairs (CSMARC) at the Royal Court, led by a close adviser of bin Salman, as well as “seven members of Muhammad bin Salman’s elite personal protective detail, known as the Rapid Intervention Force.”

The report notes that bin Salman viewed Khashoggi as a threat to the Kingdom “and broadly supported using violent measures if necessary, to silence him.”

The intelligence report says that they still do not have visibility on when the Saudis decided to harm the father of five. “Although Saudi officials had pre-planned an unspecified operation against Khashoggi we do not know how far in advance Saudi officials decided to harm him,” it said.

The report also noted that at the time of Khashoggi’s murder, “the crown prince fostered an environment in which aides were afraid that failure to complete assigned tasks might result in him firing or arresting them.”

This comes a day after administration officials hinted that Biden may also be considering an announcement of punishment for the Saudis once the report was released.

When asked if the administration would consider sanctions against those found responsible for Khashoggi’s murder, State Department spokesperson Ned Price said Thursday, “I expect that we will be in a position before long to speak to steps to promote accountability going forward for this horrific crime.”

Prince Mohammed has since denied his involvement in the killing, but said he accepts symbolic responsibility in the Khashoggi’s murder as the country’s de facto ruler. 

“This was a heinous crime,” he said in an interview with CBS in 2019. “But I take full responsibility as a leader in Saudi Arabia, especially since it was committed by individuals working for the Saudi government.”

In September 2020, a Saudi court sentenced eight suspects to prison in what the UN investigator called a “parody of justice.”

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