U.S. Intelligence Officials Conclude Saudi Prince Ordered Khashoggi's Killing

U.S. intelligence officials have concluded that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, despite the Saudi government’s denial that the ruler had anything to do with the journalist’s death, according to officials familiar with the matter.

A senior U.S. official told CNN that the CIA based it’s conclusions on available intelligence, adding that an operation such as the one that resulted in Khashoggi’s death would not have taken place without the bin Salman's knowledge considering his control over the Saudi government.

A Saudi embassy spokeswoman denied the CIA’s claims, which was first reported by The Washington Post. “We have and continue to hear various theories without seeing the primary basis for these speculations,” the spokeswoman added.

But, according to the Post, U.S. intelligence officials have high confidence in the CIA’s assessment.

Khashoggi, a former Saudi royal insider who became a critic of the Saudi government, lived in the United States and was a columnist for the Post. He went missing in October after visiting a Saudi consulate in Istanbul to retrieve papers for his upcoming wedding. According to The Associated Press, Turkish and Saudi authorities have said that the journalist was killed by a team from the kingdom while in the consulate.

This week, the Senate and House Intelligence Committees along with the Treasury Department announced economic sanctions on 17 Saudi officials suspected of being responsible for Khashoggi’s death.

Among the intelligence analyzed by the CIA was a phone call placed by the prince’s brother Khalid bin Salman to Khashoggi, encouraging him to visit the consulate in Istanbul to obtain the papers for his wedding since it would be safe, according to the Post. He reportedly made the call at his brother’s command.

Fatimah Baeshen, a spokesperson for the Saudi embassy in Washington, said the claims were false. In a statement to the AP, Baeshen said the prince’s brother, who is the current Saudi ambassador to the United States, met Khashoggi once in September 2017, but that after that, they only communicated via text message. The last text message the ambassador sent to Khashoggi was on October 26, 2017, according to Baeshen.

“Ambassador Prince Khalid bin Salman has never had any phone conversations with him,” she said, adding that the ambassador did not discuss “anything related to going to Turkey” with Khashoggi.

The ambassador also denied the report, writing on Twitter, “The last contact I had with Mr. Khashoggi was via text on Oct. 26, 2017. I never talked to him by phone and certainly never suggested he go to Turkey for any reason. I ask the U.S. government to release any information regarding this claim.”

The CIA also analyzed an audio recording provided by Turkish authorities from inside the consulate. The audio recording was of a phone call placed from inside the consulate after Khashoggi was killed, according to the Post.

Maher Mutreb, an alleged member of the Saudi hit team and a security official for the crown prince, reportedly placed the call to a top aide for the prince, informing him that Khashoggi had been killed.

President Donald Trump called the report “premature,” saying it was “too early” to say whether the Saudi prince was behind Khashoggi’s death, ABC News reports.

“They haven’t accessed anything yet — it’s too early,” Trump said. “That was a very premature report."

"But that’s possible,” Trump added. “We’re gonna see.”

Vice President Mike Pence did condemn the the journalist’s murder, saying, “We are going to follow the facts.”

“The murder of Jamal Khashoggi was an atrocity. It was also an affront to a free and independent press and the United States is determined to hold all of those accountable who are responsible for that murder,” the vice president said, adding that he did want to find a way to preserve a “strong and historic partnership” with Saudi Arabia.

The president said the U.S. government will complete a “full report” by Tuesday.