Four Saudis who were involved in the 2018 killing of the Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi received paramilitary training in the United States the previous year under a contract approved by the State Department, the New York Times reported on Tuesday.
The training was provided by Tier 1 Group, which is owned by the private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management, and was defensive in nature and devised to protect Saudi leaders, the Times reported.
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Cerberus did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Reuters.
In response to the Times report, State Department spokesman Ned Price said under the law the department cannot comment “on any of the licensed defence export licensing activity alleged in media reporting.”
Price also said US policy towards Saudi Arabia “will prioritise the rule of law and respect for human rights”.
Khashoggi, a US resident who wrote columns for the Washington Post critical of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was killed and dismembered by a team of operatives linked to the prince, in the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul in October 2018.
A US intelligence report in February said the crown prince had approved an operation to capture or kill the journalist.
Cerberus senior executive Louis Bremer confirmed his company’s role in the training of four members of the Khashoggi kill team last year in written answers to questions from members of Congress as part of his nomination for a senior Pentagon job in former President Donald Trump’s administration, according to the Times.
But the lawmakers never received the answers because the Trump administration does not appear to have sent them to Congress before withdrawing Bremer’s nomination, according to the Times, which said Bremer provided it with the document.
Bremer said the US State Department and other government agencies are responsible for vetting foreign forces trained on US soil, the Times reported.
The New York Times report said there is no evidence that the American officials who approved the training, or the Tier 1 Group executives, knew that the Saudis were involved in the crackdown inside Saudi Arabia.
But it added that the case involving Khashoggi shows “how intensely intertwined” the US has become with Saudi Arabia “even as its agents committed horrific human rights abuses”.
The report said that a licence to provide paramilitary training to the Saudi Royal Guard was first issued by the State Department in 2014, during the time of Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama.
The training then continued at least until the first year of Trump’s term.
A recent Yahoo News report by investigative journalist Michael Isikoff also revealed that the team of Saudi assassins who allegedly killed Khashoggi reportedly stopped in the Egyptian capital to pick up the drugs they used to kill the dissident.
The report said a Gulfstream jet stopped over in Cairo on October 2, 2018, before ultimately landing in Istanbul.
The report did not mention what type of drugs were used to kill Khashoggi, or who provided them to the assassins.