The Washington Post reports that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman personally ordered an “operation” against government supporter-turned-critic Jamal Khoshoggi, which would see him lured back to the kingdom and arrested.
Citing US intelligence intercepts of Saudi officials discussing the matter, the American daily — to which Khashoggi contributed as a columnist – reported Wednesday that details of the operation bore the hallmarks of a “rendition.”
Khashoggi, a Virginia-based critic of bin Salman’s policies, entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, last week for some paperwork regarding his divorce, but he never exited the mission.
News of his disappearance broke out after Khashoggi’s Turkish fiancée, who was waiting outside the diplomatic building, called the police.
The Saudi dissident’s fate remains shrouded in mystery, with several reports indicating that he has been either killed or kidnapped at the consulate by 15 Saudi operatives — among them bin Salman’s elite close protection unit — who had arrived in Istanbul on the same day only to leave Turkish soil hours later.
The Washington Post cited several of Khashoggi’s friends as saying that the prominent journalist had over the past months had been asked by senior Saudi officials close to return back home from the US, offering him “protection” and “even a high-level job.”
Khashoggi had, however, voiced distrust of the Saudi officials, and said they were unlikely to keep their words.
“He said: ‘Are you kidding? I don’t trust them one bit,’ ” said activist Khaled Saffuri, recounting a conversation he had with Khashoggi in May, moments after the journalist had received a call from Saud al-Qahtani, an adviser to the royal court.
Two other friends of Khashoggi also confirmed that at least twice he had received cordial phone calls from Qahtani.
A former US intelligence official said the details in the intercepts do not indicate any intention to harm Khashoggi.
The reports that have surfaced over the past days of what happened on that day indicate such an operation might have gone wrong, with Turkish officials saying Khashoggi was likely murdered inside the mission.
US senators urge anti-Saudi sanctions, halt to arms sales
Meanwhile, top American senators called on US President Donald Trump to consider imposing sanctions on Saudi officials regarding Khashoggi’s case.
“The recent disappearance of Saudi journalist and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi suggests that he could be a victim of a gross violation of internationally recognized human rights,” they wrote in a letter to Trump.
“We request that you make a determination on the imposition of sanctions pursuant to the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act,” they added. “Our expectation is that in making your determination you will consider any relevant information, including with respect to the highest ranking officials in the Government of Saudi Arabia.”
US Senator Chris Murphy emphasized that if Saudi Arabia had a plan to capture and kill Khashoggi, it was “time for the United States to rethink our military, political and economic relationship with Saudi Arabia.”
Senator Rand Paul said he would push for a vote in the Senate this week blocking US arms sales to Saudi Arabia.
He further stressed that he wants to end arms exports if there’s “any indication” the Saudis are “implicated in killing this journalist that was critical of them.”
Turkish media have identified 15 Saudis, including some officials, who made a mysterious one-day trip from Riyadh to Istanbul the day Khashoggi vanished at the consulate.
Two senior Turkish officials said on Wednesday that Khashoggi was wearing an Apple Watch when he entered the Saudi diplomatic mission and that the object was connected to a mobile phone he left outside the mission.
Khashoggi, a former Saudi government advisor, had fled Saudi Arabia last September and had been living in self-imposed exile in the United States, where he had applied for citizenship.
Erdogan: Turkey cannot be silent
On Thursday, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan expressed worries about Khashoggi’s disappearance, saying Ankara could not be silent over the incident.
“We are investigating all aspects of the event. It is not possible for us to remain silent regarding such an occurrence, because it is not a common occurrence,” he was quoted as saying by Hurriyetnewspaper.
Erdogan also questioned assertions by Saudi authorities that the diplomatic mission does not have footage of Khashoggi’s exit, asking, “Is it possible for there to be no camera systems at the Saudi Arabia consulate, where the event took place?”
RSF demands independent probe
In a statement released on Wednesday, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) called for an independent international investigation into the fate of Khashoggi amid an “opaque” Saudi crackdown on journalists.
It also noted that over 15 Saudi journalists and bloggers have been detained since last September, and “in most cases, their arrests have never officially been confirmed and no official has ever said where they are being held or what they are charged with.”
“The traditionally opaque methods used by Saudi Arabia to silence critical journalists constitute grounds for fearing the worst in the case of Jamal Khashoggi’s disappearance,” said Sophie Anmuth, the head of RSF’s Middle East desk.
“We call for an independent international investigation to determine as quickly as possible what has happened to Khashoggi.”
Blair: Khashoggi’s case contradicts bin Salman’s ‘reforms’
Speaking on Thursday, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair said that the disappearance of the Saudi journalist contradicted the “reforms” advocated by the Saudi crown prince.
“There is no doubt at all as the American administration and the British government have made clear this is an extremely troubling situation,” he told a Reuters Newsmaker. “This issue has to be resolved because otherwise it runs completely contrary to that process of modernization.”