Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman personally ordered the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey last month, the CIA has concluded, according to anonymous sources who spoke with the Washington Post and Reuters.
The US foreign espionage agency assessed with “high confidence” that the prince was behind the death of the Post columnist, the newspaper reported on Friday evening, citing “people familiar with the matter.”
Reuters later cited its own source as saying that the spy agency “had briefed other parts of the US government on its assessment,” which contradicts the official position maintained by both Riyadh and Washington thus far.
Saudi Arabia initially denied that Khashoggi had been killed inside the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul, where he was last seen on October 2.
Eventually, however, Riyadh admitted the journalist had died on the premises, blaming it on a “fight” with officials sent to take him home. Khashoggi was living in self-imposed exile in Turkey, having become an outspoken critic of the crown prince.
Writing in the Post last month, Turkish president Recep Erdogan claimed that the order to have the dissident journalist killed “came from the highest levels of the Saudi government,” not naming the crown prince but seemingly implicating him.
Among the evidence examined by the CIA was an alleged phone call between Khashoggi and the Saudi ambassador to Washington, Khalid bin Salman –the crown prince’s brother– who assured the journalist it was safe to go to the consulate, the Post reported.
Ambassador bin Salman abruptly left Washington on October 11, and was not expected to return, according to reports by multiple media outlets, which were neither confirmed nor denied by Riyadh.
The CIA’s “purported assessments are false,” Fatimah Baeshen, a spokeswoman for the Saudi embassy in Washington, told the Post. “We have and continue to hear various theories without seeing the primary basis for these speculations.”
Later in the evening, Ambassador bin Salman tweeted that the Post failed to print the embassy’s full response, including the statement that he “has never had any phone conversations” with Khashoggi.
“This is a serious accusation and should not be left to anonymous sources,” the ambassador said.
“The accepted position is that there is no way this happened without him being aware or involved,” the Post quotes an anonymous US official, described as familiar with the CIA’s conclusions.
Among the evidence reportedly obtained by the CIA is the audio recording from a listening device Turkey had placed inside the Saudi consulate, the Post reported. CIA Director Gina Haspel was allegedly given a copy of the audio, said to have been shared with officials from other countries as well.