Saudi’s crown prince says being accused of Jamal Khashoggi murder ‘hurt his feelings’

Mohammed bin Salman suggests journalist was not important enough to kill and claims his own human rights were violated

Chiara Giordano
Thursday 03 March 2022 18:20 GMT
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Saudi’s crown prince Mohammed bin Salman has said being accused of journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s murder 'hurt his feelings’
Saudi’s crown prince Mohammed bin Salman has said being accused of journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s murder 'hurt his feelings’ (Bandar Algaloud/Courtesy of Saudi Royal Court/Reuters)

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Saudi’s crown prince has said being accused of journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s murder “hurt his feelings”.

In his first interview with non-Saudi press for more than two years, Mohammed bin Salman said it was “obvious” he had not ordered the writer and broadcaster’s killing – and claimed his own human rights had been violated.

He told The Atlantic: “It hurt me a lot. It hurt me and it hurt Saudi Arabia, from a feelings perspective.

“I understand the anger, especially among journalists. I respect their feelings. But we also have feelings here, pain here.”

Khashoggi, who is thought to have angered the prince with criticism of his policies, was last seen alive when he entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October 2018.

The 59-year-old’s body has never been recovered, but Western intelligence services believe he was murdered and dismembered by a dozen-strong team of Saudi agents.

The crown prince, commonly known as MBS, has always denied any involvement in his death, though an intelligence report released by the Biden administration last year alleged he knew about and approved of the plan.

According to The Atlantic, which sat down to interview him twice in recent months, he told two people close to him that “the Khashoggi incident was the worst thing ever to happen to me” because it could have ruined his plans to reform the country.

Jamal Khashoggi, then general manager of Alarab TV, looks on during a press conference in the Bahraini capital Manama on 15 December 15
Jamal Khashoggi, then general manager of Alarab TV, looks on during a press conference in the Bahraini capital Manama on 15 December 15 (AFP via Getty Images)

He told the magazine he felt his own rights had been violated by the accusations against him.

“I feel that human rights law wasn’t applied to me,” he said. “Article XI of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that any person is innocent until proven guilty.”

In an attempt to defend himself, the 36-year-old suggested Khashoggi was not important enough to organise a kill squad.

“I never read a Khashoggi article in my life,” he said. “If that’s the way we did things… Khashoggi would not even be among the top 1,000 people on the list.”

MSB said he did not care whether Joe Biden misunderstood things about him, saying the US president should be focusing on America’s interests.

Since Biden took office in January 2021, the long-standing strategic partnership between Saudi Arabia, the world’s top oil exporter, and Washington has come under strain over Riyadh’s human rights record, especially with respect to the Yemen war and Khashoggi’s murder.

Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi
Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi (AFP via Getty Images)

Asked by The Atlantic whether Biden misunderstood something about him, he replied: “Simply, I do not care.”

He said it was up to Biden “to think about the interests of America”.

“We don’t have the right to lecture you in America,” he told the publication, adding: “The same goes the other way.”

Khashoggi’s murder tarnished the reformist image that the crown prince had been cultivating in the West, which largely condemned him.

MBS has wanted to return the focus to social and economic reforms that he has pushed through to open up Saudi Arabia and diversify its oil-dependent economy. They do not appear to include wide political reform.

Mohammed bin Salman pictured alongside other leaders at the G20 Osaka Summit in Japan on 28 June 2019
Mohammed bin Salman pictured alongside other leaders at the G20 Osaka Summit in Japan on 28 June 2019 (Ludovic Marin/AFP via Getty Images)

Asked whether Saudi rule could transform into a constitutional monarchy, the prince said no.

“Saudi Arabia is based on pure monarchy,” he said.

Prince Mohammed also told The Atlantic that Riyadh’s objective was to maintain and strengthen its “long, historical” relationship with America. He said Saudi investments in the United States amounted to $800 billion.

While the crown prince enjoyed close relations with Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump, Biden has taken a tougher stance with the Gulf Arab powerhouse and has so far chosen only to speak with King Salman bin Abdulaziz, not MBS

The Biden administration has also prioritised an end to the Yemen war, where a Saudi-led coalition has been battling the Iran-aligned Houthi movement for seven years.

The conflict has killed tens of thousands of people and pushed Yemen to the brink of famine.

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