Khashoggi Killers Linked To Saudi Crown Prince
Several of the men apparently tied to the murder of Jamal Khashoggi have close ties to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Turkey released the names of the team of fifteen Saudis believed to be responsible for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, and not surprisingly several of them have close ties to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman:
ISTANBUL — One of the suspects identified by Turkey in the disappearance of the Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi was a frequent companion of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman — seen disembarking from airplanes with him in Paris and Madrid and photographed standing guard during his visits this year to Houston, Boston and the United Nations.
Three others are linked by witnesses and other records to the Saudi crown prince’s security detail.
A fifth is a forensic doctor who holds senior positions in the Saudi Interior Ministry and medical establishment, a figure of such stature that he could be directed only by a high-ranking Saudi authority.
If, as the Turkish authorities say, these men were present at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul where Mr. Khashoggi disappeared on Oct. 2, they might provide a direct link between what happened and Prince Mohammed. That would undercut any suggestion that Mr. Khashoggi died in a rogue operation unsanctioned by the crown prince. Their connection to him could also make it more difficult for the White House and Congress to accept such an explanation.
The New York Times has confirmed independently that at least nine of 15 suspects identified by Turkish authorities worked for the Saudi security services, military or other government ministries. One of them, Maher Abdulaziz Mutreb, was a diplomat assigned to the Saudi Embassy in London in 2007, according to a British diplomatic roster. He traveled extensively with the crown prince, perhaps as a bodyguard.
How much blame for Mr. Khashoggi’s disappearance or death settles on the 33-year-old crown prince has become a decisive factor in his standing in the eyes of the West and within the royal family.
The prince has presented himself as a reformer intent on opening up the kingdom’s economy and culture, and has used that image to try to influence White House policy in the region and to woo Western investors to help diversify the Saudi economy.
But the international revulsion at the reported assassination and mutilation of a single newspaper columnist — Mr. Khashoggi, who wrote for The Washington Post — has already sullied that image far more than previous missteps by the crown prince, from miring his country in a catastrophic war in Yemen to kidnapping the prime minister of Lebanon.
The crown prince and his father, King Salman, have denied any knowledge of Mr. Khashoggi’s whereabouts, repeatedly asserting that he left the consulate freely. Saudi officials did not respond to requests for comment for this article.
But in the last few days, as major American businesses have withdrawn from a marquee investment conference in Riyadh and members of Congress have stepped up called for sanctions, the United States, Turkey and Saudi Arabia appear to have been searching for a face-saving way out.
The royal court was expected to acknowledge that Mr. Khashoggi was killed in the consulate, and to blame an intelligence agent for botching an operation to interrogate Mr. Khashoggi that ended up killing him.
President Trump floated the possibility on Monday that Mr. Khashoggi was the victim of “rogue killers.”
But such explanations would run up against a host of hard-to-explain obstacles.
The suspects’ positions in the Saudi government and their links to the crown prince could make it more difficult to absolve him of responsibility.
The presence of a forensic doctor who specializes in autopsies suggests the operation may have had a lethal intent from the start.
Turkish officials have said they possess evidence that the 15 Saudi agents flew into Istanbul on Oct. 2, assassinated Mr. Khashoggi, dismembered his body with a bone saw they had brought for the purpose, and flew out the same day. Records show that two private jets chartered by a Saudi company with close ties to the Saudi crown prince and Interior Ministry arrived and left Istanbul on the day of Mr. Khashoggi’s disappearance.
Turkish officials said Mr. Khashoggi was killed within two hours of his arrival at the consulate. That timeline would not have allowed much time for an interrogation to go awry.
More from The Washington Post:
Three days before Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman arrived in the United States earlier this year for a nationwide tour, another Saudi traveler who identifies online as a member of the Saudi Royal Guard also arrived in Washington, passport records show. His stay overlapped with that of the prince.
Two times before that, this traveler had made other trips to the United States that coincided with visits by top members of the Saudi royal family, including King Salman and another one of his sons.
That same traveler, Khalid Aedh Alotaibi, has now appeared on a list provided by Turkish officials of 15 Saudis who Turkey alleges participated in the disappearance and alleged killing of prominent journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi Consulate on Oct. 2. On Tuesday, Turkish officials provided passport scans for seven members of what they called a hit squad, and that information helped confirm Alotaibi’s travels to Washington.
Alotaibi is one of 11 Saudis included on the list who have ties to the Saudi security services, according to their posts on social media, emails, local media reports and other material reviewed by The Washington Post.
Two weeks after the disappearance of Khashoggi, a contributor to The Washington Post’s Global Opinions section and critic of the Saudi government, there is mounting scrutiny of the 15 men identified by Turkey as members of the Saudi team involved in his death. Turkey released the list as a way to demonstrate Saudi involvement in the killing.
According to the Turkish account and flight information, the 15 men arrived in Istanbul on Oct. 2 — most of them early in the morning — and then departed in the hours after Khashoggi’s disappearance.
Saudi officials have repeatedly denied any involvement in Khashoggi’s disappearance and say they have no information about his whereabouts. They say he left the consulate shortly after he arrived to obtain a document he needed for an upcoming marriage.
Saudi Arabia has made no official statement about the men or said why they may have been in Istanbul on Oct. 2. A report on the Saudi-owned al-Arabiya news channel said the 15 were “tourists” who had been falsely accused.
U.S. officials now expect the Saudi government to accept responsibility for the death of Khashoggi in an explanation that shields the powerful crown prince from fault, said a diplomat familiar with the situation. The diplomat spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive matter.
With President Trump suggesting that Khashoggi might have died at the hands of “rogue killers,” attention has increasingly focused on the identities of the men on the list and their reported links to the Saudi government, security services and the crown prince himself.
Alotaibi and eight others identified as suspects by Turkish officials appear to have profiles on MenoM3ay — a phone directory app popular in the Arab world — identifying themselves as members of the Saudi security forces, with some claiming to be members of the Royal Guard.
In one instance, Alotaibi identified himself with a symbol for the Royal Guard. In another, someone else saved him in their contacts with the same symbol for the security force, which is charged with protecting the royal family.
Repeated attempts to contact Alotaibi using the phone number listed in the app were unsuccessful.
Five of the eight others are repeatedly identified in the app as either officers in the Royal Guard or employees of the royal palace.
Two of the Saudis on the list, Naif Hassan S. Alarifi and Saif Saad Q. Alqahtani, are repeatedly identified in the app as even closer to the royal family — specifically as employees of the “Crown Prince office.”
The Post could not independently confirm that either man works for the crown prince. Phone calls placed to the numbers in the app over several days were not answered or showed that the phones were turned off. The Saudi Embassy in Washington has not responded to repeated requests for comment on the 15 men since last week.
Four men with those same names, however, self-identify in Facebook and other social media posts or have been quoted in Saudi news articles as members of the country’s security forces.
Another one of the suspects who appears to identify himself on the app as a member of the Saudi security forces is Maher Abdulaziz Mutreb. A decade ago, Mutreb was listed as the first secretary at the Saudi Embassy in London, according to a British list of diploma
Mutreb’s name also appears in hacked emails released three years ago by WikiLeaks. In an email sent to officials at an Italian security firm in 2011, a Saudi official identified Mutreb as among embassy staff who would receive advanced security training.
Taken together will all the other available evidence, and the previous reporting on Khashoggi’s murder, it seems increasingly likely that the Crown Prince, who is known to have curried favor with numerous members of the American government, was linked to whatever it was that this team of Saudis had planned for Khashoggi when they arrived in Istanbul on October 2nd. This report comes on top of reports last week that bin Salman had been behind a plot earlier in the year to attempt to Khashoggi back to Saudi Arabia for the purposes of arresting him on charges related to his vocal criticisms of the Crown Prince, King Salman, and other members of the Royal Family and Saudi Government. Added into this is the fact that there is virtually nothing that goes on in Saudi Arabia, or in its name, that doesn’t have the approval of either the Crown Prince or King Salman himself. Therefore, ultimate responsibility for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi can only logically be laid at the feet of bin Salman and his father.
Taking all that into account, it becomes even harder to believe the narrative which the Saudi Government is preparing to push out to the world, which essentially amounts to the idea that Khashoggi’s death was part of a rogue operation to detain and question and perhaps kidnap him and bring him back to the KSA, and that the operation was planned an carried out without the knowledge or approval of either the King or the Crown Prince. It quite simply strains credulity to believe that an operation of this type, carried out by people with ties to the Saudi intelligence services and military who are close to the Crown Prince, the King, and other members of the Royal Family. Outside of President Trump, who appears to be buying the Saudi line lock, stock, and barrel, it’s a claim that no rational person is likely to take the Saudis at their word on this one. Whether that has any implications for the future of U.S./Saudi relations is, of course, an entirely different story.