Sunday, January 16, 2022

U.S intelligence report on Khashoggi’s murder implicates Muhammad bin Salman, prompts new U.S Policy and international condemnation

A U.S. intelligence report released on Friday has implicated Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman in the 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

The four-page report was kept under wraps under the previous U.S administration and only confirms the widely held view that the Saudi government was involved in the gruesome murder. 

“We assess that Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman approved an operation in Istanbul, Turkey, to capture or kill Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi,” the report noted. 

“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 added. 

The unclassified report also mentions that Khashoggi’s killing fits “a pattern of the crown prince’s support for using violent measures to silence dissidents abroad.”

Analysis The murder of Jamal Khashoggi and the future of Middle East politics SETA
Jamal Khashoggi

Jamal Khashoggi, a US resident who wrote for The Washington Post, was murdered inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October 2018, and several top Saudi officials were arrested in connection with the case.

Khashoggi was openly critical of the Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman and his human rights record. 

Khashoggi was lured to Istanbul’s Saudi consulate to retrieve papers that would allow him to marry his Turkish fiancee, Hadice Cengiz, in October 2018. The journalist was subdued, killed, and dismembered using a bone saw.

US Sanctions

The intelligence report has prompted a strong response around the world with many calling for accountability. The report was presented in front of congress and the house emphasized a re-evaluation of the relationship with Saudi Arabia. 

“The United States government must re-evaluate and recalibrate the relationship with Saudi Arabia, given the findings of this report, which are part of a disturbing pattern of human rights abuses from the Kingdom,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement.

It wasn’t long before the Biden-Harris administration announced a policy sanctioning many Saudi Citizens. 

Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced the State Department’s “Khashoggi Ban,” a visa restriction policy “on individuals who, acting on behalf of a foreign government, are believed to have been directly engaged in serious, extraterritorial counter-dissident activities.”

The new policy will impose restrictions on 76 Saudi citizens and may set the precedent of similar punishments for such crimes in the future. 

The Treasury Department also announced sanctions against Ahmed al-Assiri, a high-ranking Saudi military official who was fired from his position after Khashoggi’s murder, and the Saudi Royal Guard’s rapid intervention force, or RIF for their role in the killing. 

However, the government stopped short of imposing sanctions on Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman himself. 

According to Blinken, the aim is to maintain a working relationship with the Kingdom. 

“What we’ve done by the actions that we’ve taken is really not to rupture the relationship but to recalibrate it,” Blinken said. 

Response in the UK

The United Kingdom’s response to the report was led by the foreign office. The officials claimed that Britain continues to raise the issue of Jamal Khashoggi’s killing in engagements with Saudi Arabia’s government and regards his death as a terrible crime. 

“The UK has always been clear that Jamal Khashoggi’s murder was a terrible crime,” the foreign office said. 

“We called for a thorough, credible, and transparent investigation to hold those responsible to account and imposed sanctions against 20 Saudis involved in the murder.”

“The Foreign Secretary raised the issue during his visit to Riyadh last year, and we continue to raise it in our engagements with the Saudi government,” the statement added. 

UN Human Rights Council 

The United Nation Human Rights Council’s Special Rapporteur on the extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions Agnes Callamard asked the United States to now take lead on the case and ensure accountability for those responsible. Callamard headed a six-month investigation into the Khashoggi killing last year and called on the Human Rights Council, the Security Council, or the UN Secretary-General to conduct an international follow-up criminal investigation to determine individual liability and identifying options towards judicial accountability.

Callamard shared her response to the U.S intelligence report on her Facebook page

“With the release of the U.S. report, confirming Saudi officials’ culpability at the highest levels, the United States should now take the lead in ensuring accountability for this crime and for setting in place the international mechanisms to prevent and punish such acts in the future,” she said. 

“The United States government should impose sanctions against the Crown Prince, as it has done for the other perpetrators – targeting his personal assets but also his international engagements.”

Saudi Arabia denies the allegations

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Saudi Arabia released a statement rejecting the US report on the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. The statement, released on Twitter, categorically rejected “negative, false and unacceptable assessment in the report pertaining to the Kingdom’s leadership”

The statement added, “It is truly unfortunate that this report, with its unjustified and inaccurate conclusions, is issued while the kingdom had clearly denounced this heinous crime, and the kingdom’s leadership took the necessary steps to ensure that such a tragedy never takes place again.”

U.A.E’s Support for Saudi Arabia

While there have been calls for accountability from all around the world, the UAE has expressed support for the Saudi government. 

The UAE’s foreign ministry “expressed its confidence in and support for the Saudi judiciary rulings, which affirm the kingdom’s commitment to implementing the law in a transparent and impartial manner, and holding all those involved in this case accountable”,

“The UAE fully supports Saudi Arabia’s ongoing efforts to establish stability and security in the region,” the ministry’s statement added.

In 2019, a court in Saudi Arabia sentenced five people to death for Khashoggi’s murder. The death penalty was later changed to a life sentence after Khashoggi’s family ‘pardoned‘ the culprits.

Nigel Simmonds
Nigel Simmonds, Journalist at Peres Daily

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