U.S. intelligence report: Saudi crown prince 'approved' Jamal Khashoggi murder

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Feb. 26 (UPI) -- Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman directly approved of the operation to murder Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey, a U.S. intelligence report released Friday says.

The declassified report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence said intelligence officials based its assessment on the fact that Mohammed, known commonly by his initials MSB, has "control of decision making" in the kingdom.

"Since 2017, the crown prince has had absolute control of the kingdom's security and intelligence organizations, making it highly unlikely that Saudi officials would have carried out an operation of this nature without the crown prince's authorization," the report said.

The report confirms initial assessments made by the CIA in the weeks after Khashoggi's death, that Mohammed ordered the dissident's death.

Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist who lived in Virginia, died Oct. 2, 2018, after he visited the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to pick up documents he needed for his pending marriage. He was never observed leaving the building, nor was his body ever found.

His disappearance sparked a months-long investigation in which officials determined he had been poisoned and dismembered with a bone saw inside the consulate.

The DNI report said Mohammed's key adviser, Saud al-Qahtani, and members of his protective detail were involved in the operation to kill Khashoggi. They also accused the crown prince of using violent measures to silence dissidents abroad.

"The crown prince viewed Khashoggi as a threat to the kingdom and broadly supported using violent measures if necessary to silence him," the report said. "Although Saudi officials had pre-planned an unspecified operation against Khashoggi, we do not know how far in advance Saudi officials decided to harm him.

The revelation comes as the Biden administration works to "recalibrate" the United States' relationship with Saudi Arabia, as White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Friday. About a week after his inauguration, President Joe Biden ordered a pause on arms sales to the country, which is the largest purchaser of military weapons and aircraft from the United States.

In a 2020 presidential debate, Biden promised to regard Saudi Arabia as "the pariah that they are."

Senior administration officials told The New York Times on Friday that Biden is unlikely to directly penalize Mohammed for Khashoggi's death because the price is too high.

Psaki told reporters, though, that "there are a range of actions that are on the table."

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