De facto Saudi Arabian leader Crown Prince Mohammed bin Sultan gave the green light for the mission to capture or kill American-based Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi, U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded, in a case that threatens to strain even further relations between Riyadh and the Biden administration.
The U.S. made public the widely-expected findings Friday about the October 2018 assault on Mr. Khashoggi, who was killed and dismembered after he traveled to a Saudi consulate in Turkey for documents ahead of his planned wedding. From the start, there was widespread suspicion that the large team of Saudi government agents would not have carried out the attack without direct authorization from the crown prince.
“We assess that Saudi Arabia‘s Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman approved an operation in Istanbul, Turkey to capture or kill Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi,” the newly declassified U.S. intelligence summary said.
President Biden has already made clear plans to take a harder line with the oil-rich Middle East kingdom, after former President Trump had made the Saudis a centerpiece of his regional strategy to contain Iran.
The hard-charging crown prince, widely known by his initials MBS, has pushed an aggressive foreign policy and domestic modernization program, while cracking down on dissent both within the Saudi royal family and from civil society.
But the decision to make public the intelligence conclusions, something Mr. Trump declined to do, puts pressure on the Biden White House to act, especially with growing bipartisan unhappiness in Congress over recent Saudi moves.
Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Mark Warner, Virginia Democrat, hailed to the release of the findings, noting that Khashoggi was based in Northern Virginia after leaving Saudi Arabia.
“For too long, the United States failed to hold Saudi Arabia accountable for the brutal murder of journalist, dissident, and Virginia resident Jamal Khashoggi,” Mr. Warner said in a statement. “I’m encouraged to see the new administration taking steps to rectify that by releasing this long-overdue congressionally mandated report into his killing.”
After the report was made public, Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced what the Biden administration has dubbed a “Khashoggi Ban” — visa restrictions on individuals who, “acting on behalf of a foreign government, are believed to have been directly engaged in serious, extraterritorial counter-dissident activities.”
Mr. Blinken said 76 Saudi nationals will face the visa restrictions, although not all are related to the Khashoggi killing.
“While the United States remains invested in its relationship with Saudi Arabia, President Biden has made clear that partnership must reflect U.S. values,” Mr. Blinken said in a statement. “To that end, we have made absolutely clear that extraterritorial threats and assaults by Saudi Arabia against activists, dissidents and journalists must end. They will not be tolerated by the United States.”
Separately, the private Human Rights Foundation called on both the U.S. and the European Union to sanction the crown prince himself.
The prince “has proven that he is unfit to represent the kingdom on the global stage and we applaud the Biden administration for choosing to engage directly with King Salman,” said HRF President Thor Halvorssen. “Now the United States and the European Union must urgently place sanctions on MBS himself, along with those within his direct chain of command who were involved in the murder.”
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