The United States intelligence agencies have concluded in a newly declassified report that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had a personal hand in the 2018 murder of The Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

The four-paged report titled Assessing the Saudi Government’s Role in the Killing of Jamal Khashoggi was released on Friday by the Office of the US Director of National Intelligence. It confirmed the widely known conclusions that the journalist was killed at the behest of Prince Mohammad in October 2018.

Though the report did not provide the details of the brutal murder – Khashoggi’s body was said to have been dismembered inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul and disposed of elsewhere – the report concluded that “Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman approved an operation in Istanbul, Turkey to capture or kill” the journalist.

“The Crown Prince viewed Khashoggi as a threat to the Kingdom and broadly supported using violent measures if necessary to silence him,” the report said.

An elite team of 15 members had carried out the killing, the report said, also providing names of these officials. The US agencies said they had “high confidence” that these individuals “participated in, ordered, or were otherwise complicit in or responsible” for Khashoggi’s death on behalf of Muhammad bin Salman.

However, it was not known whether these individuals knew in advance that the operation would result in the journalist’s killing, the report said.

It said that at the time of the Khashoggi murder, the Crown Prince “probably fostered an environment in which aides were afraid that failure to complete assigned tasks might result in him firing or arresting them”. This suggests that the aides were unlikely to question Muhammad bin Salman’s orders or undertake sensitive actions without his consent, the report said.

The assessment

The US intelligence agencies based the assessment that bin Salman had approved Khashoggi’s murder on the prince’s “control of decision-making in the kingdom, the direct involvement of a key adviser and members of [the prince’s] protective detail in the operation, and [his] support for the using [of] violent measures to silence dissidents abroad, including Khashoggi”.

“Since 2017, the Crown Prince has had absolute control of the Kingdom’s security and intelligence organizations,” the report said, “making it highly unlikely that Saudi officials would have carried out an operation of this nature without the Crown Prince’s authorization”.

The report pointed to the fact that the 15-member hit squad that arrived in Istanbul worked for or were associated with the Saudi Center for Studies and Media Affairs at the Royal Court. At the time of this operation, the institute was led by Saud al-Qahtani, a close adviser to the prince who claimed publicly in 2018 that he did not make decisions without the prince’s approval, it said.

The team also included seven members of Prince Muhammad’s elite personal protective detail, known as the Rapid Intervention Force, or RIF.

“The RIF-a subset of the Saudi Royal Guard-exists to defend the Crown Prince, answers only to him, and had directly participated in earlier dissident suppression operations in the Kingdom and abroad at the Crown Prince’s direction,” the US agencies noted.

Therefore, it concluded that the RIF would not have participated in the operation against Khashoggi without Muhammad bin Salman’s approval.

(Credit: Mohammed Al-Shaikh, Saul Loeb, Bandar Al-Jaloud / AFP / Saudi Royal Palace)

‘Khashoggi ban’: US imposes sanctions on 76 individuals

While the administration of US President Joe Biden took no direct action against Prince Mohammed, it announced travel and financial sanctions on other Saudis involved in the killing, Reuters reported.

The United States banned 76 people from Saudi Arabia, saying it will not tolerate individuals who threaten or assault activists, dissidents and journalists on behalf of foreign governments, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said.

Blinken announced the US State Department’s “Khashoggi Ban”, a visa restriction policy “on individuals who, acting on behalf of a foreign government, are believed to have been directly engaged in serious, extraterritorial counter-dissident activities”.

The US treasury also issued new sanctions against Ahmad Hassan Mohammed al Asiri, the former deputy head of Saudi Arabia’s General Intelligence Presidency. The US department said that al Asiri was “assigned to murder Khashoggi” and was the “ringleader of the operation”.

Saudi Arabia responds

Saudi Arabia said it completely rejected the “negative, false and unacceptable assessment in the report pertaining to the Kingdom’s leadership”. In a statement released by the kingdom’s foreign ministry, the government alleged that the US report contained inaccurate information and conclusions.

“This crime was committed by a group of individuals that have transgressed all pertinent regulations and authorities of the agencies where they were employed,” it said. “The relevant authorities in the Kingdom took all possible measures within our legal system to ensure that these individuals were properly investigated, and to ensure that justice was served.”

The kingdom added that the accused in the case were convicted and sentenced by the courts, calaiming that these sentences were welcomed by the family of Khashoggi.