US intelligence has indicted Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler in the 2018 murder and dismemberment of dissident and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.
“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 US Office of the Director of National Intelligence said in the four-page report released on Friday.
The US report came as the Biden administration moved to impose sanctions on some of those involved in Mr. Khashoggi’s killing, but spared the crown prince himself in an effort to preserve relations with the kingdom.
No sooner had the intelligence release emerged than the Saudi government, which has consistently denied any involvement by the crown prince, issued a statement dismissing it and repeating its previous statements that Mr. Khashoggi’s killing was a heinous crime by a rogue group.
On Friday, US President Joe Biden attempted to clarify his stance on the issue, suggesting that killings of political opponents were not acceptable to the US, while, at the same time, preserving relations with the thirty-five-year-old crown prince, who, as future king, could be an important ally against common foe, Iran, for decades to come.
Mr. Biden said in a TV interview that he told eighty-five-year-old Saudi King Salman that Riyadh has to tackle human rights abuses as a precondition to dealing with the US.
“(I) made it clear to him that the rules are changing and we’re going to be announcing significant changes today and on Monday,” the president said.
Among the punitive steps taken by the US on Friday were the imposition of a visa ban on some Saudis believed involved in the Khashoggi killing and placing of sanctions on others, including a former deputy intelligence chief. The measures would freeze their US assets and generally bar Americans from dealing with them.
US officials also said they were considering cancelling arms sales to Saudi Arabia that pose human rights concerns and limiting future sales to “defensive” weapons, as it reassesses its relationship with the kingdom and its role in the Yemen war.
In Friday’s report, the US intelligence agency said it premised its conclusion on Crown Prince Salman’s control of decision-making, the direct involvement of one of his key advisers and his own protective detail, and his “support for using violent measures to silence dissidents abroad, including Mr. Khashoggi”.
Sixty-year-old Mr. Khashoggi, a US resident who wrote opinion columns for the Washington Post critical of the crown Prince’s policies, was killed and dismembered with a bone saw by a team of operatives linked to the prince in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2, 2018.