Saudi Arabia rejects US intel report on Khashoggi death

Ministry of Foreign Affairs says US intel claiming MBS approved the hit on Khashoggi is ‘negative, false and unacceptable’.

Saudi Arabia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs has rejected a US report showing Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman approved the operation that killed Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul in 2018 [File: Murad Sezer/Reuters]

Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has rejected a report by US intelligence agencies released on Friday that assigns accountability to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) for the killing of Jamal Khashoggi.

“The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia completely rejects the negative, false and unacceptable assessment in the report pertaining to the Kingdom’s leadership and notes that the report contained inaccurate information and conclusions,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement issued by the Saudi Press Agency.

The US intelligence community report, produced by the US Office of the Director of National Intelligence, confirms that US spy agencies had concluded MBS “approved an operation” to capture or kill the Saudi journalist in Istanbul, Turkey.

Khashoggi was killed and dismembered by a Saudi hit squad inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. His body has never been recovered.

“This was an abhorrent crime and a flagrant violation of the Kingdom’s laws and values,” the ministry statement said.

“This crime was committed by a group of individuals that have transgressed all pertinent regulations and authorities of the agencies where they were employed,” the statement said.

“The concerned individuals were convicted and sentenced by the courts in the kingdom and these sentences were welcomed by the family of Jamal Khashoggi.”

Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi speaks during a news conference on December 15, 2014, in Manama, Bahrain [File: Hasan Jamali/AP Photo]

The four-page US report, required by Congress, had been held back from public view by former President Donald Trump but was released by new President Joe Biden who had pledged during his 2020 political campaign to hold the Saudis accountable for Khashoggi’s murder.

US spy agencies, including the CIA, based their assessment of MBS’s role on his “control of decision making” and the “direct involvement of a key adviser” and members of his “protective detail” in the operation.

Saudi Arabia has long denied MBS had direct knowledge of Khashoggi’s murder.

After the report’s release on Friday, the Biden administration officials announced travel bans on 76 Saudi nationals and imposed financial sanctions on Saudi Major General Ahmad Hassan Mohammad Asiri, a close confidant of MBS.

“It is truly unfortunate that this report, with its unjustified and inaccurate conclusions, is issued while the kingdom has clearly denounced this heinous crime, and the Kingdom’s leadership took the necessary steps to ensure that such a tragedy never takes place again,” the Saudi statement said.

“The Kingdom rejects any measure that infringes upon its leadership, sovereignty, and the independence of its judicial system.”

Asked about the Saudi denial of the report’s findings, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in Washington “the report speaks for itself” and the Biden administration is “trying to bring transparency to this issue and share with the American people what we know”.

The kingdom had given “multi-million-dollar houses” and “monthly five-figure payments” to Khashoggi’s four children, according to a 2019 report by The Washington Post, the US newspaper where Khashoggi had been a columnist.

Khashoggi wrote in his last column before he was killed about the need for a free press in the Arab world.

“A state-run narrative dominates the public psyche, and while many do not believe it, a large majority of the population falls victim to this false narrative,” Khashoggi said.

Source: Al Jazeera