An unclassified intel report detailing the heinous assassination of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi has just been released by the Biden administration—and it points the finger directly at Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
“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 four-page report, released on Friday, said. “We base this assessment on the Crown Prince’s control of decision making in the Kingdom since 2017, 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.”
While the long-anticipated assessment places the blame for Khashoggi’s death squarely on the shoulders of the Saudi crown prince, it did not offer any bombshell revelations about his murder. Ahead of the report’s release, President Joe Biden spoke to King Salman on Thursday afternoon in a call that “affirmed the importance the United States places on universal human rights and the rule of law,” the White House said.
On Friday, Secretary of State Tony Blinken announced the Biden administration’s “Khashoggi Ban” that has already imposed visa restrictions on 76 Saudi individuals.
“The Khashoggi Ban allows the State Department to impose visa restrictions on individuals who, acting on behalf of a foreign government, are believed to have been directly engaged in serious, extraterritorial counter-dissident activities, including those that suppress, harass, surveil, threaten, or harm journalists, activists, or other persons perceived to be dissidents for their work, or who engage in such activities with respect to the families or other close associates of such persons,” he said in a statement.
The Friday report states that since 2017, MBS had “absolute control” of the Kingdom’s security and intelligence operations—making it “highly unlikely that Saudi officials would have carried out an operation of this nature without” his authorization.
The report, released by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence after previously being held back by the Trump administration, is based on a CIA report that concluded in November 2018 that the Saudi crown prince ordered the killing. Biden called Saudi Arabia’s King Salman late Thursday, but the White House readout did not mention the report, instead saying the two discussed continued work on “mutual issues of concern.”
The report also points the finger at MBS’ ruling style, stating that at the time of the murder, he “probably fostered an environment in which aides were afraid that failure to complete assigned tasks might result in him firing or arresting them.” That fear may have made it unlikely that any aides would question his orders.
“The Crown Prince viewed Khashoggi as a threat to the Kingdom and broadly supported using violent measures if necessary to silence him,” the report states. “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.”
Khashoggi, a 59-year-old Saudi Arabian dissident and columnist who fled his native country in 2017, disappeared after entering the Saudi consulate office in Istanbul on Oct. 2, 2018, to retrieve documents for his impending marriage.
While there, he was restrained, murdered, and at some point dismembered by a doctor who wielded a bone saw, according to audio caught on listening devices inside the consulate. Turkish journalists who heard the surveillance tapes wrote in a book that Saudi agents had planned the killing. “We will first tell him that we are taking him to Riyadh. If he fails to comply, we will kill him here and get rid of the body,” they were overheard saying.
Khashoggi is later heard asking, “Are you going to give me drugs?” His final words were, “I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe.”
A struggle then ensued before a man asked, “Did he sleep?” Another voice commanded, “Keep pushing.”
Later, a doctor is heard describing the dismemberment. “Joints will be separated,” he is heard saying. “If we take plastic bags and cut it into pieces, it will be finished.” His body has never been found.
The Saudi government initially denied he had been killed, but later said rogue agents had carried out the horrific crime. A body double dressed in his clothes was seen leaving the consulate in an effort to cover up the killing.
General Ahmed al-Assiri, a Saudi intelligence agent, later admitted he had formally ordered agents to try to convince Khashoggi to return to Saudi Arabia but had not authorized the use of force if he refused, according to The Washington Post.
Eight Saudi men were eventually charged and convicted for their role in a questionable trial. All five who were sentenced to death saw their sentences commuted to 20 years. The Saudi court said the Khashoggi relatives had forgiven them, paving the way to a lighter sentence.
The report released Friday names at least 2o individuals that the U.S. believes “participated in, ordered, or were otherwise complicit in or responsible for the death of Jamal Khashoggi on behalf of Muhammad bin Salman.” It was not immediately known if the individuals knew in advance that the operation would result in the journalist’s death, the report adds.
Hatice Cengiz, Khashoggi’s fiance, filed a lawsuit in the United States against Bin Salman, who is widely known as MBS, over the murder. It is unclear how this report will affect that suit.
During the presidential campaign, Biden accused MBS of ordering the murder and vowed the U.S. would not sell weapons to Saudis, instead making them “the pariah that they are.” He told reporters earlier this week that he had read the intel report on Khashoggi’s killing and planned to speak to Saudi Arabian King Salman over the phone soon.
By contrast, the Trump administration had refused to release the report, claiming that revealing it would “compromise the national intelligence office’s sources and methods.”
Biden has also ended American support for the Saudi-led conflict in Yemen and discussed resuming talks with Iran—moves the Saudi kingdom adamantly opposes.