Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism.
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
Just$1.99
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Cancel Anytime
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Get full access to globeandmail.com
Just $1.99per week for the first 24weeks
Just $1.99per week for the first 24weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(select.open)}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](select.open),dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); } //

The rulers of Saudi Arabia are considering blaming a top intelligence official close to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, three people with knowledge of the Saudi plans said Thursday.

The plan to assign blame to Gen. Ahmed al-Assiri, a high-ranking adviser to the crown prince, would be an extraordinary recognition of the magnitude of international backlash to hit the kingdom since the death of Khashoggi, a prominent Saudi dissident. A resident of Virginia and contributor to The Washington Post, Khashoggi was last seen entering the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul 16 days ago.

Blaming Assiri could also provide a plausible explanation for the killing and help deflect blame from the crown prince, who U.S. intelligence agencies are increasingly convinced was behind Khashoggi’s disappearance.

Story continues below advertisement

Turkish officials have said they possess evidence showing that 15 Saudi agents dismembered and assassinated Khashoggi in the consulate. After two weeks of blanket denials and mounting pressure from Turkey and Washington, Saudi Arabia said it would conduct its own investigation to determine who was responsible.

But even with the investigation still ostensibly under way, the Saudis are already pointing to Assiri as the culprit, according to the three people familiar with the Saudi plans. People close to the White House have already been briefed and given Assiri’s name.

Whether that move will be enough to calm the international crisis and what it may mean for Prince Mohammed, the kingdom’s day-to-day ruler, remain to be seen.

President Donald Trump, who has made the crown prince a pillar of his Middle East policy, has been equivocal, at times raising questions about Saudi Arabia’s culpability and resisting calls from Congress for sanctions. On Thursday, Trump said he believed that Khashoggi was dead and that “the consequences should be severe.”

Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and Middle East adviser, has been urging the president to stand by Prince Mohammed, according to a person close to the White House and a former official with knowledge of the discussions.

Kushner has argued that the crown prince can survive the outrage just as he has weathered past criticism.

U.S. lawmakers of both parties, however, are expressing far greater horror at what appears to be the brutal killing of Khashoggi, a veteran of the Saudi establishment who was well known among journalists and diplomats. His story has captured the attention of the American public far more than the mass killings and other atrocities in the region, and a growing number of lawmakers are demanding some sanction.

Story continues below advertisement

Assiri, who previously served as the spokesman for the Saudi-led military intervention in Yemen, is close enough to the crown prince to have easy access to his ear and has considerable authority to enlist lower ranking personnel in a mission.

The Saudi rulers are expected to say that Assiri received verbal authorization from Prince Mohammed to capture Khashoggi for an interrogation in Saudi Arabia, but either misunderstood his instructions or overstepped that authorization and took the dissident’s life, according to the two of the people familiar with the Saudi plans. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief journalists.

Even in this scenario, however, Prince Mohammed would still have ordered an operation to abduct a resident of the United States, apparently only on the basis of his public criticism of Saudi leaders.

Given Assiri’s lofty rank, declaring his culpability would also reflect on the crown prince. Prince Mohammed elevated Assiri to his current post, and Assiri is close enough to him that he has often sat in when the crown prince meets with visiting American officials.

Some critics of the kingdom are already arguing that scapegoating an underling would be little more than a diversion.

“The responsibility is with the de facto ruler, who is the crown prince,” argued Madawi al-Rasheed, a professor at the London School of Economics and a frequent critic of Prince Mohammed.

Story continues below advertisement

Four of the suspects Turkey has blamed for Khashoggi’s disappearance belong to the security team that travels with Prince Mohammed. One of them, Maher Abdulaziz Mutreb, has been photographed or spotted near him during recent visits to at least five cities – Paris, Madrid, Houston, Boston and the New York headquarters of the United Nations.

On Thursday, a pro-government Turkish newspaper published leaked, time-stamped photographs of Mutreb entering the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul just hours before Khashoggi entered. The photograph is one of the most striking pieces of evidence linking Khashoggi’s disappearance to the crown prince.

Other photos published in the newspaper Sabah showed Mutreb outside the Saudi consul general’s home, leaving a Turkish hotel with a large suitcase, and leaving the country from Istanbul’s international airport – all later the same day.

But Assiri’s seniority makes the notion that he carried out the operation without the further participation of Prince Mohammed at least technically plausible. Lower-ranking Saudi officers might have trusted that the general was giving them orders on behalf of the prince.

If Khashoggi was murdered, it could be treated as a capital crime. How the kingdom might punish Assiri, however, is another question.

The general has been a well-known face to the international news media since he was named as spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition that intervened in Yemen in 2015. He gave interviews in fluent French, English and Arabic, but often privately harassed reporters when their reports turned out not to his liking.

Story continues below advertisement

Assiri was promoted last year to his current job in intelligence, and the Saudis are expected to contend that in Khashoggi case he was seeking to prove himself, according to the people familiar with their plans.

Assiri did not respond to phone calls seeking comment.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies