The crown prince of Saudi Arabia once reportedly said he hoped to put “a bullet” in Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi — threats that came just one year before Khashoggi was brutally murdered.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, known as MBS, is widely believed to have been pulling the strings behind Khashoggi’s death in October after the journalist wrote critically of the Saudi government. And now US intelligence agencies reportedly have concrete evidence to suggest the crown prince had a personal vendetta against the journalist after they transcribed his intercepted conversations. The New York Times’ Mark Mazzetti has the story:

The conversation between Prince Mohammed and the aide, Turki Aldakhil, took place in September 2017, as officials in the kingdom were growing increasingly alarmed about Mr. Khashoggi’s criticisms of the Saudi government. That same month, Mr. Khashoggi began writing opinion columns for The Washington Post, and top Saudi officials discussed ways to lure him back to Saudi Arabia.

In the conversation, Prince Mohammed said that if Mr. 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 Mr. Khashoggi “with a bullet,” according to the officials familiar with one of the intelligence reports, which was produced in early December.

Khashoggi, a columnist with the Washington Post, was brutally strangled in October at the Saudi consulate in Turkey. His body is believed to have been dismembered and allegedly carried through the airport by members of MBS’s team, though his remains have not yet been publicly recovered.

Riyadh, meanwhile, denies the Saudi royal family’s involvement, telling The Times that they have already “indicted a number of officials linked to the crime.” Saudi officials have said previously that killing was carried out by a “rogue” team of agents.

The White House is defying demands from Congress to get to the bottom of the murder

After an initially slow response to the killing, the US government has walked a fine line between responding to an incident condemned by world leaders (and one that President Donald Trump called “the worst coverup ever,”) and maintaining close ties to Riyadh.

Bipartisan efforts in Congress began in October to get answers on who perpetrated the vicious attack — even if it led to the top of the Saudi government. Top US intelligence officials have already come forward anonymously in media reports with conclusions that the attack was premeditated and ordered by the crown prince.

Trump, however, has continuously refused to hold the crown prince accountable for Khashoggi’s death. This week he blew past the Friday deadline set by senators to release a report investigating the identity of the journalist’s killer(s). Trump officials say he has the power to refuse their request.

“Consistent with the previous administration’s position and the constitutional separation of powers, the president maintains his discretion to decline to act on congressional committee requests when appropriate,” the Trump administration said in a statement.

But Trump has made a habit out of siding with the Saudi royal family, even when his statements directly contradict findings of his own intelligence agencies. Last year he did issue sanctions in relation to Khashoggi’s murder, but at every opportunity given to him, the president has stopped short of blaming the crown prince outright. Indeed, the US has maintained its contentious and complicated alliance with Saudi Arabia for decades. But Trump is once again putting the interests of arms deals, oil, and strategic foothold in the Middle East ahead of human rights and the rule of law — even when the victim of a brutal murder is a US resident.

Amanda Sakuma
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