Brothers-in-arms: Saudi Prince with Trump.

Brothers-in-arms: Saudi Prince with Trump.

Saudi Prince told aide he would go after Khashoggi with a bullet: NYT

Saudi officials planned Khashoggi's murder: UN investigator

Agency Report | New York/Geneva | 8 February, 2019 | 11:10 PM

Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is said to have told a top aide in 2017 that he would use "a bullet" on Jamal Khashoggi, a journalist who was murdered last October if the latter did not return to the Kingdom and end his criticism of the Saudi government.

The conversation, intercepted by American intelligence agencies, is the most detailed evidence to date that the Crown Prince considered killing Khashoggi, a columnist for The Washington post, long before a team of Saudi operatives murdered him inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on October 2, 2018, and dismembered his body using a bone saw, a New York Times report said on Thursday.

According to informed officials, the conversation that took place between Prince Mohammed and the aide, Turki Aldakhil in September 2017, has been transcribed and analysed as part of an effort by intelligence agencies to find proof of who was responsible for Khashoggi’s death.

The National Security Agency (NSA) and other American intelligence agencies are now sifting through years of the Crown Prince’s voice and text communications that the NSA routinely intercepted and stored, The New York Times quoted the officials as saying.

Also in September 2017, Khashoggi began writing opinion columns for The Washington Post, and top Saudi officials discussed ways to lure him back to the country, the officials said.

In the conversation, Prince Mohammed said that if Khashoggi could not be enticed back to Saudi Arabia, then he should be returned by force.

If neither of those methods worked, the Crown Prince said, then he would go after the slain journalist “with a bullet”.

At the time of the conversation, Prince Mohammed was in the midst of consolidating power in the Kingdom, The New York Times said.

Just months earlier, his father, King Salman, elevated him to second in line to the throne.

Later that year, Prince Mohammed ordered hundreds of influential businessmen and Saudi royals, some who had been considered contenders to the throne, locked up at the Ritz Carlton hotel in Riyadh, the Saudi capital, where they were interrogated.

Days before the conversation with Aldakhil, according to the informed officials, Prince Mohammed complained to another aide, Saud al-Qahtani, that Khashoggi had grown too influential.

The Crown Prince Mohammed said that Khashoggi’s articles and Twitter posts were tarnishing his image as a forward-thinking reformer.

Responding to the report, Aldakhil said on Thursday night: “These allegations are categorically false. They appear to be a continuation of various efforts by different parties to connect His Royal Highness Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to this horrific crime. These efforts will prove futile.”

A Saudi official also issued a statement saying: “We again deny any involvement on the part of the Crown Prince in the heinous murder of Jamal Khashoggi.”

Meanwhile, UN rapporteur Agnes Callamard presented preliminary findings on Thursday saying that Khashoggi’s murder was the consequence of a plan hatched by officials of the Kingdom.

“Evidence collected during my mission to Turkey shows prima facie case that Khashoggi was the victim of a brutal and premeditated killing, planned and perpetrated by officials of the State of Saudi Arabia,” Callamard said.

Callamard, who travelled to Turkey with a team that included a serious-crime investigator and a forensics expert, said she found that Saudi Arabia was hindering and undermining Turkish authorities’ efforts to elucidate the circumstances of the journalist’s death.

She said her team will continue their investigation in the upcoming weeks and she urged anyone with any information about the assassination to come forward.

The team’s final report will be presented in June to the UN Human Rights Council.

“Woefully inadequate time and access was granted to Turkish investigators to conduct a professional and effective crime-scene examination and search required by international standards for investigation,” she said.

Khashoggi’s murder violated international law and the rules that regulate relations between countries and the status of diplomatic missions, she said.

“Guarantees of immunity were never intended to facilitate the commission of a crime and exonerate its authors of their criminal responsibility or to conceal a violation of the right to life,” she said in a statement released by the office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva.

In that light, Callamard said, “the circumstances of the killing and the response by (Saudi) State representatives in its aftermath may be described as ‘immunity for impunity.’”

Among the evidence to which the UN expert had access to were “parts of the chilling and gruesome audio material obtained and retained by the Turkish Intelligence agency.”

Callamard and her team will continue their investigation in the upcoming weeks and she urged anyone with any information about the assassination to come forward.

The team’s final report will be presented in June to the UN Human Rights Council.

Long a member of the Saudi establishment, Khashoggi became estranged from the government in Riyadh as a result of his criticism of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and had been living in self-imposed exile in the US since 2017.

It took the Saudi government weeks to acknowledge that Khashoggi, a columnist for The Washington Post, died inside the consulate in Istanbul, where he had gone to obtain documents enabling him to marry his Turkish fiancee.

While Saudi prosecutors have charged a dozen government officials for the murder, the kingdom continues to insist that the crown prince had not had any prior knowledge of the operation in Istanbul, whose original aim was to bring Khashoggi back to Riyadh. (IANS)