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US report says Saudi crown prince approved operation to 'capture or kill' Khashoggi

Xinhua | Updated: 2021-02-27 07:34
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FILE PHOTO: A demonstrator holds a poster with a picture of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi outside the Saudi Arabia consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, Oct 25, 2018. [Photo/Agencies]

WASHINGTON - A declassified US intelligence report released on Friday assessed that Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud approved an operation to "capture or kill" Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.

"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," read the executive summary of the 4-page report released by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

"We base this assessment on the Crown Prince's control of decisionmaking 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," said the report.

"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," it added.

Saudi Arabia denied the crown prince was involved in the death of Khashoggi.

Khashoggi, a columnist for The Washington Post, was murdered inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October 2018, and a number of top Saudi officials were arrested in connection with the case.

Saudi Arabia's Public Prosecution last September issued the final verdicts against eight convicts in Khashoggi's killing, five were sentenced to 20 years in jail, and three sentenced to seven to 10 years in jail.

Soon after the release of the report, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the State Department imposed visa restrictions on 76 Saudi individuals "believed to have been engaged in threatening dissidents overseas, including but not limited to the Khashoggi killing," according to a newly announced "Khashoggi Ban."

Also on Friday, the US Treasury announced sanctions against Ahmad Hassan Mohammed al Asiri, Saudi Arabia's former Deputy Head of General Intelligence Presidency, and the kingdom's Rapid Intervention Force for their connection with the murder of Khashoggi.

This report was blocked from the public by the previous Donald Trump administration, which had a close relationship with the Saudi leadership and put Saudi Arabia as a linchpin of US Middle East policy.

The Biden administration made clear it would recalibrate US-Saudi relations. In his first foreign policy speech in early February, President Joe Biden ordered to end US support for Saudi-led offensive operations in Yemen, including relevant arms-sales.

The report was released one day after Biden's first call as president with Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud on Thursday.

According to the White House readout of their conversation, Biden affirmed the importance the United States places on universal human rights and the rule of law, saying he "would work to make the bilateral relationship as strong and transparent as possible."

The call also indicated a "counterpart-to-counterpart" pattern in Biden's engaging with Riyadh, breaking with his predecessor Donald Trump's preferred outreach to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The crown prince, who is officially Saudi's deputy prime minister and defense minister, had received a call from US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin last week.

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