Newly released US intelligence report will heap added pressure on Joe Biden to reassess US-Saudi ties, experts say.
US intelligence agencies have concluded in a new report that slain Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was murdered by a Saudi hit squad operating under the command of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS).
The unclassified report released on Friday confirmed the role top US intelligence officials believe Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler played in the 2018 killing of Khashoggi.
“We assess that Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman approved an operation in Istanbul, Turkey, to capture or kill Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi,” the Office of US Director of National Intelligence said.
“Since 2017, the Crown Prince has had absolute control of the Kingdom’s security and intelligence organisations, making it highly unlikely that Saudi officials would have carried out an operation of this nature without the Crown Prince’s authorisation.”
The 59-year-old was a columnist for the Washington Post newspaper who had been critical of the Saudi government. He was killed inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October 2018.
Saudi officials have denied MBS had any role in the assassination.
Here is how the world reacted to the release of the four-page report.
In a statement carried by Saudi state news agency SPA, the kingdom’s foreign ministry said: “The government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia completely rejects the … assessment in the report pertaining to the Kingdom’s leadership, and notes that the report contained inaccurate information and conclusions.”
The Government of The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia Completely Rejects the Assessment in the Report Submitted to US’ Congress Regarding Murder of Saudi Citizen Jamal Khashoggi.https://t.co/DGfg4OAceT#SPAGOV pic.twitter.com/r5Skr7QRh1
— SPAENG (@Spa_Eng) February 26, 2021
The UAE defended Saudi Arabia’s position, reported UAE’s state news agency WAM on Saturday.
The UAE’s foreign ministry “expressed its confidence in and support for the Saudi judiciary rulings, which affirm the kingdom’s commitment to implementing the law in a transparent and impartial manner, and holding all those involved in this case accountable”, WAM said.
The British foreign office reiterated the United Kingdom has always been clear that “Jamal Khashoggi’s murder was a terrible crime”.
In a statement, it said: “We called for a thorough, credible and transparent investigation to hold those responsible to account and imposed sanctions against 20 Saudis involved in the murder.
“The Foreign Secretary raised the issue during his visit to Riyadh last year, and we continue to raise it in our engagements with the Saudi government.”
Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affrairs said it had “taken note” of the US intelligence report, while also noting that Saudi Arabia’s government had termed Khashoggi’s murder as an “abhorrent crime”.
“The Saudi government has further underlined that it took all possible measures within its legal system to ensure that the individuals responsible were properly investigated, convicted and sentenced and that justice was served. Pakistan recognizes Saudi efforts in this regard and expresses solidarity with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” the ministry said in a statement.
“Pakistan underscores adherence to the rule of law, respect for national sovereignty, and protection and promotion of human rights by all States, in accordance with their respective Constitutional frameworks and international obligations,” it added.
In a Facebook post, Agnes Callamard, the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, said the US should lead in ensuring accountability.
“With the release of the US report, confirming Saudi officials’ culpability at the highest levels, the United States should now take the lead in ensuring accountability for this crime and for setting in place the international mechanisms to prevent and punish such acts in the future,” Callamard wrote.
“The United States government should impose sanctions against the Crown Prince, as it has done for the other perpetrators – targeting his personal assets but also his international engagements,” she added.
“I call on the government of Saudi Arabia to disclose whether his remains were destroyed onsite or how and where they were disposed. The individuals responsible know only too well the specifics and, in the face of the Saudis’ unconscionable silence, the international community must exert pressure for full disclosure of all the facts.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi urged the US government to re-evaluate its relations with Saudi Arabia.
“The United States government must re-evaluate and recalibrate the relationship with Saudi Arabia, given the findings of this report, which are part of a disturbing pattern of human rights abuses from the Kingdom,” Pelosi said in a statement.
“The United States Congress stands with President Biden in promoting transparency relating to human rights abuses and in supporting partnerships that advance our security, uphold our values and protect our interests. We support the steps being taken by the Administration to hold Saudi Arabia accountable, including related to Global Magnitsky and visa denials for human rights abusers.”
This heinous event is an affront to the rule of law & basic human rights. We must re-evaluate our relationship with Saudi Arabia. We stand w/ @POTUS in promoting transparency & supporting partnerships that advance our security, uphold our values & protect our interests.
— Nancy Pelosi (@SpeakerPelosi) February 26, 2021
Democratic Congressman and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff said MBS had “blood on his hands”.
“The Biden administration should explore ways to ensure the repercussions for the brutal murder of Mr Khashoggi go beyond those who carried it out, to the one who ordered it — the crown prince himself,” Schiff said.
“He has blood on his hands and that blood belonged to an American resident and journalist. The president should not meet with the Crown Prince, or talk with him, and the administration should consider sanctions on assets in the Saudi Public Investment Fund he controls that have any link to the crime.”
While she welcomed the intelligence report as a “long overdue honest account of the brutality and lawlessness” of MBS, Democratic Congresswoman Ilhan Omar said there must be “direct consequences” for the Saudi Crown Prince and is planning on introducing a new bill that will seek to place sanctions on him.
“In the coming days, I plan to introduce a bill to place sanctions on Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for his role in this and other human rights abuses,” she said in a statement.
“The United States should stand consistently for human rights and human dignity around the world – not just when it’s convenient.”
Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN), the US-Based rights group founded by Khashoggi, thanked the Biden administration for “transparency” but urged for the imposition of sanctions on MBS.
“Thank you, Joe Biden, for transparency about Jamal Khashoggi’s murder. Now we need sanctions on the Saudi prince responsible.”
The group’s Executive Director Sarah Leah Whitson said in a statement: “The DNI’s report today confirms what we have long known to be true: Mohammed Bin Salman ordered the execution of Jamal Khashoggi.
“President Biden should now fulfil his promise to hold MBS accountable for this murder by, at minimum, imposing the same sanctions on him as those imposed on his underling culprits and ending the weapons transfers to Saudi Arabia that would be controlled by an unelected, brutal murderer.”
She added: “The release of the DNI report is only a small part of the evidence we’re seeking from the US government about the murder of Khashoggi, including regarding US officials close to MBS who potentially facilitated a cover-up.”
Khashoggi’s fiancé Hatice Cengiz took to Twitter and posted using a hashtag. She wrote: “#justiceforjamal“.
— Hatice Cengiz / خديجة (@mercan_resifi) February 26, 2021
Washington Post Publisher and CEO Fred Ryan said: “Since the day this innocent journalist was brutally murdered, we have called for two important actions: for the facts to come to light and for accountability on the part of those responsible.
“Today’s release of the report has brought the facts to light. Now, the man who authorised this brutal murder must be held fully accountable for it.”