Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman approved an operation to capture or kill Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018 as part of a campaign to silence dissidents abroad, a now declassified U.S. intelligence report says.
The report, released by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence Friday, cited the Crown Prince’s control of security and intelligence services since he gained power in 2017 after he deposed his older cousin.
“We base this assessment on the Crown Prince’s control of decision-making in the kingdom, the direct involvement of a key adviser and members of Muhammed bin Salman’s protective detail in the operation, and the Crown Prince’s support for using violent measures to silence dissidents abroad, including Khashoggi,” the report said.
Riyadh has denied any involvement by the Crown Prince in Mr. Khashoggi’s killing.
Richard Fadden, a former director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, said the U.S. intelligence report adds credibility to allegations by a former Saudi spy chief that the Crown Prince, commonly referred to by his initials MBS, sent an assassination squad to Canada in an attempt to silence him.
Saad Aljabri, who held a senior cabinet-rank intelligence post under former crown prince Mohammed bin Nayef, has alleged that the Saudi hit team was sent to kill him shortly after the assassination of Mr. Khashoggi. The Globe and Mail has reported that the team was thwarted Oct. 15, 2018, when it arrived at Ottawa’s Macdonald-Cartier International Airport and drew the suspicion of Canadian border agents.
Lawyers for Mr. Aljabri say their client has “damning information” about political scheming within the royal court, corrupt business dealings and the creation of a team of personal mercenaries.
Mr. Fadden, who served as national-security adviser to two prime ministers, said what’s also disturbing about the declassified report is the implication that no critic of MBS is safe. He said it should make governments think carefully about the possibility that the Crown Prince is willing to attack his critics anywhere in the world.
Daniel Hoffman, a former head of the CIA’s Middle East division, said the Saudis targeted Mr. Khashoggi as well as Mr. Aljabri and human-rights critic Iyad el-Baghdadi, who is living in Norway as a political refugee.
“It’s pretty strong evidence in the way the kingdom is dealing with what are perceived to be external enemies,” he said.
Mr. Khashoggi was strangled and dismembered by a 15-member team of Saudi assassins on Oct. 2, 2018, during a visit to the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul. The final moments of his death were captured on audio recordings, and transcripts were later made public by the Turkish government.
The murder of Mr. Khashoggi sparked an international outcry and tarnished the reputation of the oil-rich kingdom and the Crown Prince.
“The Crown Prince viewed Khashoggi as a threat to the kingdom and broadly supported using violent measures if necessary to silence him,” the U.S. intelligence report said.
President Joe Biden spoke with Saudi King Salman, 85, on Thursday ahead of the release of the report. A White House summary of the call made no reference to Mr. Khashoggi or the report. However, the U.S. has told the Saudis that the President will not deal with his 35-year-old son, the Crown Prince and de facto ruler.
It is not known whether the U.S. will impose sanctions against the Crown Prince.
Mr. Hoffman said the Biden administration needs to come up with a clear policy toward Saudi Arabia, given its importance in the region. He said Canada should be part of the discussions.
“What the U.S. has to do is come up with a policy that holds Saudi Arabia accountable for these human-rights abuses but also recognizes that Saudi Arabia is an important ally and bulwark against Iran as well as Russian and Chinese influence in the region,” he said.
Relations between Canada and Saudi Arabia have been strained since August, 2018, when then-foreign affairs minister Chrystia Freeland tweeted that Saudi Arabia should “immediately release” imprisoned rights activists.
The Saudis were enraged, calling the tweet “unfortunate, reprehensible and unacceptable in relations between states.” Riyadh recalled its ambassador, expelled the Canadian ambassador and suspended the Saudi state-owned airline from flying to Toronto.
The Globe has reported that Canada’s refusal to send Mr. Aljabri back was a contributing factor in the Saudi diplomatic reaction.
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