Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, above, communicated with Saud al-Qahtani, his closest aide who is alleged to have overseen the murder of The Washington Post contributing columnist Jamal Khashoggi, hours before and after the crime was committed, a report says, citing portions of CIA’s highly classified document.
The Wall Street Journal said on Saturday that the crown prince sent some 11 messages to Qahtani on Oct 2, the day Khashoggi was killed by a 15-member Saudi team at its consulate in Istanbul.
The report said Salman had told his associates as early as August last year that they should “lure him (Khashoggi) outside Saudi Arabia and make arrangement” if efforts to persuade the journalist to return to his homeland fail.
According to CIA’s assessment, this communication was a pointer to the Saudi operation that followed more than a year later.
The Journal did not reveal details of Salman’s messages to Qahtani who kept a list of the kingdom’s harshest critics. However, the messages between Salman and Qahtani, which were attached to the CIA’s document as potential evidence, seem to suggest that the crown prince was aware of what was happening on Oct 2 at the Saudi consulate.
Qahtani used the Royal Court’s media department to organise the murder, the document said, adding that it is hard to believe the Saudi team carried out the operation without Salman’s approval.
Saudi Arabia kept changing its narrative since the day Khashoggi was murdered. It consistently denied Salman had any role in the crime. Later, it said some rogue elements in the team sent to persuade Khashoggi to return home overstepped the orders resulting in the death of the journalist.
Addressing media at the G20 summit in Argentina on Saturday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Khashoggi was killed in 7.5 minutes. Turkey shared that evidence with all countries who sought it.
Erdogan accused Saudi Arabia of not allowing Turkish authorities to question the suspects to know about others involved and the whereabouts of Khashoggi’s body.
France and the UK expressed their deep concern to Salman over the killing at G20.
US President Donald Trump, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Secretary of Defence Jim Mattis seem to defend Saudi Arabia despite their initial condemnation of Khashoggi’s murder.
Trump did not bother to listen to the tape sent by Erdogan. Pompeo and Mattis say CIA’s document does not establish any link between Khashoggi’s killing and Salman.
They do not want the Khashoggi case to upset more than 70 years of warm ties between the US and Saudi Arabia at a time when they are expecting a huge arms purchase by Riyadh.