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.

FILED UNDER: Intelligence, Middle East, National Security, World Politics, , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    Of course they have ties to MSB…this is a closely held top-down autocracy…these guys didn’t go rogue. The message to every journalist and dissident was intentional.
    Get in line or get dead.
    And be very clear, by protecting MSB, Dennison is supporting and encouraging this type of action.

  2. Kathy says:

    I suppose it’s possible the prince said “will no one rid me of this troublesome journalist?” and some bright members of his entourage decided to take Khashoggi out at the first available opportunity.

    But then the prince’s actions don’t match that. If a “rogue” faction of his people did this, he’d be indignant, angry, and eager to distance himself from the murder. At the very least he’d order them arrested pending a thorough investigation. We wouldn’t have this “Well, gee, he walked out and we never saw him again” crap that no one but Trump and his minions seems to believe.

  3. JohnMcC says:

    It is very bad – as I think our President said – about the Crown Prince ordering the murder of that journalist. It’s probably a very good thing that protecting reporters and writers is a cause that has a poster child. And the squirming and twisting on the world stage of various nasty actors is amusing. Yes. Yes. Yes.

    I persist however in trying to point out that the major action here is that the leadership of Turkey is making life difficult for the leadership of Saudi Arabia and that the reason is some kind of statecraft. I don’t know what the goal is and I don’t read reporting about it.

  4. Jen says:

    And all signs point to our President throwing up his hands and saying “oh well.” It’s really depressing and concerning that nothing will come of this.

    @JohnMcC: I’ve been trying hard not to go too far down that rabbit hole, but yes–there seems to be something else at work here. Given that Saudi Arabia’s main rival in the region is Iran, I’m a tiny bit spooked about what might be motivating Turkey. Turkey has been unhappy with the Kurdish factions becoming more established, we know that. We also know that Turkey has been inching away from secular governance. Most Turkish Muslims are Sunnis, so that would seem to rule out any cozying up to Iran. There are probably a thousand other factors in play here that we know little or nothing about.

    I can’t remember which GOP Senator said it (might have been Lindsey Graham), but one of them said flat-out that we cannot and will not recognize MBS as a leader of Saudi Arabia, and all I could think of was that didn’t work so well the last time we tried it (Assad).

  5. James Pearce says:

    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.

    It’s time like these that I wish we had a capable, focused opposition in this country. We really, really need it.

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  6. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    Imagine, for a minute, that Dennison was elected in 2000.
    After 9/11 he would have said…

    “I spoke to Bin Laden, and he vehemently denied doing it.”

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  7. PJ says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl:
    The Bin Laden family is really into construction, all it would have had to do was to offer to put the name Trump on top of a couple of tall buildings…

    hmm…

    On 11 September 2015, while doing construction work in the Grand Mosque in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, one of the Group’s cranes collapsed due to high winds causing 118 deaths and almost 400 injuries.

  8. Kathy says:

    @Jen:

    Given that Saudi Arabia’s main rival in the region is Iran, I’m a tiny bit spooked about what might be motivating Turkey.

    Oh, it is a complicated matter. Exactly the situation where you don’t want a naive, inexperienced, uncultured, venal idiot like Trump handling things, especially as he’s unwilling to either learn or admit his own ignorance on any matter.

    Saudi Arabia presents several problems, and can make a lot of trouble. IMO, the options to pursue shouldn’t be so much against the Magic Kingdom, as against the crown prince currently causing so much trouble in the region.

  9. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @James Pearce:

    It’s time like these that I wish we had a capable, focused opposition in this country.

    We do, they’re just not focused on the things that you think they should be. And that’s what makes them capable.

  10. An Interested Party says:

    It’s time like these that I wish we had a capable, focused opposition in this country.

    And if we did, what would that opposition do?

  11. James Pearce says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    And that’s what makes them capable.

    Dude, while Trump is helping the Saudis cover up a murder, the Dems’ ostensible 2020 “front-runner” is taking a DNA test to shore up some bullshit “identity” claims. Don’t brag about capability, demonstrate it.

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  12. Robert C says:

    “Rogue”, just like the “rogue” 15/19 hijackers involved on September 11.

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  13. James Pearce says:

    @An Interested Party:

    And if we did, what would that opposition do?

    Abandon identity politics and make allies with folks who have common interests.

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  14. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    @James Pearce:

    Abandon identity politics and make allies with folks who have common interests.

    As per usual; vacuous, insipid, trite.

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  15. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    As the details of this come out it’s making Dennison look worse and worse for protecting MBS.
    There was no interrogation – only torture.
    They cut off his fingers.
    They beheaded him.
    Again…the POTUS is actively protecting the man that ordered this brutal assault on democracy.

  16. wr says:

    @PJ: “all it would have had to do was to offer to put the name Trump on top of a couple of tall buildings…”

    Nah, it would have been enough for them to whisper to him “we really did this so your building would be the tallest…”

  17. wr says:

    @Donna Simmons: Hey Mike — Making light jokes about a torture murder? That’s low even from you. No wonder you changed your screen name.

  18. slimslowslider says:

    @wr:

    Wasn’t a commenter named “Rupert Simmons” banned last week?

  19. the Q says:

    It seems as though the same rogue killers who murdered Nicole and Ron Goldman are at it again…I am sure the Prince is going to do everything he can to bring the real murderers to justice….

  20. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @James Pearce:

    Dude, while Trump is helping the Saudis cover up a murder, the Dems’ ostensible 2020 “front-runner” is taking a DNA test to shore up some bullshit “identity” claims. Don’t brag about capability, demonstrate it.

    BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA…. You actually think what trump is doing in regards to Khashoggi is a demonstration of capability????? BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA… As for demonstrating electoral capability, I think the upcoming elections will show one way or the other.

    Speaking of electoral capability, how many elections did you say you won?

    Also, for the record, I never said I was capable, much less bragged, I said DEMs were. They have won many elections over the years demonstrating said capabilities, not that you would ever notice.

  21. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @James Pearce:

    Abandon identity politics and make allies with folks who have common interests.

    Ever notice that the people who accuse DEMs of “identity politics” are the ones who most closely identify with white men and that somehow or other that isn’t “identity politics”?

    So your solution is to abandon the people with whom we have common interests so we can make allies with the people with whom we have common interests.

    Got it. Don’t give up your day job.

  22. James Pearce says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    So your solution is to abandon the people with whom we have common interests so we can make allies with the people with whom we have common interests.

    You have common interests with white men.

    You just have to pretend you don’t so that you can lump all white men in Hillary’s basket of deplorables.

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  23. dazedandconfused says:

    There’s always a potential bugaboo when we say a country has responded. We don’t know what part of the Saudi government responded with the “rogue” comment. Could be King Salman, could be bin Salman.

    I’d say that IF it was King Salman the ‘rogue’ comment could be ominous. The King may have been surprised that his crown prince had assembled a crew of goons loyal only to himself and has been deploying them without seeking advise. Grasping at straws here, but a “crown prince” who exhibits terrible judgment on multiple occasions, is only 33, and doesn’t seek advise from his elders before acting is replaceable, generally speaking.

  24. An Interested Party says:

    Abandon identity politics…

    And examples of this alleged sin are…?

    You have common interests with white men.

    You just have to pretend you don’t so that you can lump all white men in Hillary’s basket of deplorables.

    That is a rather deplorable accusation…