According to a declassified version of a U.S. intelligence report, the private jets used by the assassination team that killed dissident Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi were owned by a company that was seized by Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman.
The intelligence report, which is expected to be released later on Thursday, has found evidence for the theory that Mohammed bin Salman had ordered or approved the 2018 killing of Khashoggi, news agencies and prominent cable networks reported.
President Joe Biden has said he read the report and will soon speak to Saudi Arabian King Salman. The development comes amid speculation that the US is looking to reposition its alliance with Saudi Arabia.
CNN reported that the ownership of Sky Prime Aviation was transferred into Saudi Arabia's sovereign wealth fund, Public Investment Fund, in 2017 as per the orders of the crown prince, the de facto ruler of the country. The aircraft owned by this company were later used to transport the assassins to Turkey in October 2018.
More Evidence for MBS' Knowledge of Murder
The Wall Street Journal had also reported in 2018 that the Gulfstream jets used by the assassins of Khashoggi were owned by company controlled by the Saudi crown prince. "He would have been tracking [the company] and would've been aware of how it was used ... And it's just more potential evidence that he was in the know on this. Which has always been the contention. This is just more evidence of that," Dan Hoffman, the former director of the CIA's Middle East Division, told CNN.
Khashoggi was killed inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2. The journalist was lured to the consulate in Istanbul and was killed by a team of high-level Saudi operatives who dismembered his body.
UN human rights investigator Agnes Callamard said in 2019 that Saudi Arabia carried out a "deliberate, premeditated execution" of Khashoggi. "There is sufficient credible evidence regarding the responsibility of the crown prince demanding further investigation," said Callamard, calling for further investigation.
Following international pressure, Saudi Arabia eventually admitted that Khashoggi was killed by the intelligence operatives but argued that the killing was the result of an extradition operation that went wrong.
Khashoggi, 59, was the most powerful journalist in Saudi Arabia at one point of time and was very close to the ruling family. However the ascendancy of Prince Mohammed bin Salman changed the equations and he ended up being a critic of the establishment. Khashoggi had gone into exile, fearing arrest in the kingdom.
Intention was to Execute Khashoggi Summarily
After his killing, Turkish media revealed chilling details of the toruture and murder. Unnamed Turkish official who listened to an audio tape that apparently recorded the torture had revealed that Kasogi's body was cut into pieces after he was killed on October 2.
He said the Saudi kill squad's intention was to execute Khashoggi summarily, not to question him. Khashoggi, who had arrived at the consulate to obtain papers to facilitate his marriage with Turkish girlfriend Hatice, was in the Consul General's room when he was grabbed by the squad.
The squad leader, Salah Muhammad al-Tubaigy, the head of forensic evidence in the Saudi general security department, started cutting Khashoggi's body while he was alive. He put on a headphone and listened to music even as he chopped the body into pieces and asked his men to do the same, the Middle East Eye had reported. citing Turkish sources.