The CIA believes Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman sent at least 11 messages to an advisor it alleges oversaw the team that killed Jamal Khashoggi in the hours surrounding the journalist’s death, according to a highly-classified assessment seen by The Wall Street Journal.
Mr Khashoggi – a critic of the Saudi royal family – was killed in October shortly after entering Riyadh’s consulate in Istanbul. Saudi Arabia has faced an international outcry over the killing, which the country has blamed on a kidnap operation by a group of “rogue” operatives.
The electronic messages reportedly sent by the crown prince were to former Saudi royal court adviser Saud al-Qahtani, according to the CIA assessment. The content of the messages between the crown prince and Mr Qahtani is not known, the document says. It also does not say in what form the messages were sent.
Mr Qahtani was one of the officials that was sacked as part of the investigation by the Saudi public prosecutor into the killing. He was also one of 17 people sanctioned by the US Treasury Department whom the US had linked to the killing.
Saudi officials have repeatedly denied that Mohammed bin Salman had any involvement in the killing.
Excerpts of the CIA assessment, which cites electronic intercepts and other clandestine information, also reportedly states that in August 2017, the crown prince had told associates that if efforts to persuade Mr Khashoggi to return to Saudi Arabia were not successful, “we could possibly lure him outside Saudi Arabia and make arrangements”.
The Wall Street Journal said that it was unclear from the excerpts whether the 2017 comments are from Crown Prince Mohammed directly, or from someone else describing his remarks.
It was reported last month month that the CIA had assessed that the Saudi crown prince had likely been involved in the decision over Mr Khashoggi’s killing.
The new excerpts reportedly state that the CIA has “medium-to-high confidence” that bin Salman personally targeted Mr Khashoggi. However, it said: “To be clear, we lack direct reporting of the Crown Prince issuing a kill order.”
Mr Trump has questioned the CIA’s assessments about the crown prince, saying recently that “maybe he did [know]; and maybe he didn’t”.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met US Senators on Wednesday to brief them on the US response to the killing. He said after the meeting that the agency did not find a so-called smoking gun.
“There is no direct reporting connecting the crown prince to the order to murder Jamal Khashoggi,” Mr Pompeo told reporters.
A Saudi official, responding to The Wall Street Journal from Riyadh’s Embassy in Washington, said: “HRH the Crown Prince communicates regularly with various senior officials within the Royal Court on different matters. At no time did HRH correspond with any Saudi officials in any government entity on harming Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi citizen. We continue to categorically reject any accusations based on speculations.”
A CIA spokesman declined to comment. Mr Qahtani did not respond to a request for comment. The White House said it did not respond to reports on intelligence matters.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies