US intelligence ‘likely’ knew of threat to Khashoggi before he was murdered, says UN investigator

Exclusive: US ‘complicit’ in impunity enjoyed by Saudi Arabia, says Agnes Callamard

Andrew Buncombe
Chief US Correspondent
Friday 30 July 2021 01:10
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CCTV footage shows Jamal Khashoggi entering Saudi embassy in Istanbul
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It appears increasingly likely that the US had intelligence in advance about the deadly threat to Jamal Khashoggi, according to the former UN official who investigated the dissident journalist’s murder by Saudi Arabia.

By failing to make public all and any information it has about the killing, and whether it was aware in advance of the perilous danger he was in, she said, the US is making itself “complicit” in the impunity enjoyed by Saudi Arabia.

“If they have information of any kind, and any source, regarding the killing; if they have information pointing to the extent of the responsibility of MBS, or the stops in Cairo, and they are not making it public – they are making themselves complicit of impunity,” Agnes Callamard, the former UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions, told The Independent.

Ms Callamard spent six months investigating the murder, and said in her 2019 report that Saudi Arabia was responsible for “premeditated execution”. She also said that there was credible evidence of the liability of crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, known as MBS.

Saudi Arabia denied the prince was responsible and claimed the 57-year-old Khashoggi had been the victim of a “rogue” operation. It charged a handful of lower-ranking operatives, though none of the senior officials identified by US intelligence, a summary of whose conclusions was made public earlier this year.

In recent months there has been a flurry of new revelations about the 2018 murder of Khashoggi, for many years a defender of the Saudi regime, who had fallen out with MBS and was increasingly critical – often within his columns for The Washington Post.

In June The New York Times reported that four members of the Saudi hit squad had received paramilitary training from an Arkansas-based security company, Tier 1 Group, owned by the private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management.

On the presidential campaign trail, Joe Biden called Saudi Arabia a “pariah” and vowed he would take a much tougher line with the kingdom than Donald Trump had.

Yet, though the report by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) “assessed” that MBS had approved the murder, there have been no sanctions levelled at the crown prince himself – only at lower-ranking officials.

The US government is currently being sued by two organisations seeking to force Mr Biden to make public any information the state has about the murder, and what it knew in advance of the threat to Khashoggi, a resident of the United States.

Agnes Callamard spent six months digging into the crime

Ms Callamard, whose investigation included listening to a 15-minute audio of the killing, which has not been made public, has called on all governments to make available all the evidence they have. She was disappointed by how quickly the US and its relationship with Saudi Arabia had retuned to normal, she said.

In her 2019 report, she said she could independently confirm media reports that both the US and Turkey had information about the threat to the reporter.

Two years later, she said it appeared “less and less” likely that the US was not aware of a threat to Khashoggi.

Donald Trump: Jamal Khashoggi death 'the worst cover up ever'

“Everything that we are hearing is pointing to such a close nexus between the US and Saudi Arabia, including at an intelligence level,” she said.

“And this, coming on top of the leaks very early on… It’s only a hypothesis, I have no material evidence, but it [increases] the likelihood of the US having captured intelligence regarding threats to Jamal.”

The White House did not reply to inquiries from The Independent. The CIA and the ODNI referred to the US intelligence report from February, but failed to respond to the issue of whether the US had information in advance about the threat to Khashoggi. The State Department said it could not comment on intelligence matters.

The Saudi embassy in Washington DC, its foreign ministry, and one of its US lawyers also did not respond to a request for comment. Cerberus also did not respond to inquiries.

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