Riyadh rejects American intelligence report on journalist's killing

RIYADH • Saudi Arabia has said it rejected completely "the negative, false and unacceptable" assessment of a US intelligence report that found Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had approved the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Saudi Arabia's de facto ruler approved an operation to capture or kill the Washington Post columnist in 2018, the US report said, as the United States sanctioned some of those involved but not the Crown Prince himself.

"The government of the kingdom of Saudi Arabia completely rejects the... assessment in the report pertaining to the kingdom's leadership, and notes that the report contained inaccurate information and conclusions," the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement carried by state news agency SPA.

"The crime was committed by a group of individuals who have transgressed all pertinent regulations... and the kingdom's leadership took the necessary steps to ensure that such a tragedy never takes place again."

A Saudi Arabian court jailed eight people last year for between seven and 20 years over the murder of Mr Khashoggi after his family forgave his killers and enabled death sentences to be set aside.

Mr Khashoggi, a critic of the Crown Prince, was last seen at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct 2, 2018, where he had gone to obtain documents for his impending wedding.

His body was dismembered and removed from the building and his remains have not been found. The murder caused a global uproar and tarnished the reformist image of Crown Prince Mohammed.

"The Ministry of Foreign Affairs affirms that the partnership between the kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United States of America is a robust and enduring partnership," the statement said.

Meanwhile, a few minutes after the report was released, many Saudis flooded Twitter with the hashtag saying, "We are all Mohammed bin Salman."

But rights groups called for tough action.

Commentators close to the government took to social media to defend the Crown Prince, who is also known by his initials MBS.

Mr Ali Shihabi, former head of the Arabia Foundation in Washington, which regularly supports Saudi policy, said there was nothing in the report that had not been said before and "absolutely no smoking gun".

"Extraordinary that all this hype is made about this document... This thin 'report' is actually evidence that no hard proof exists against MBS," Mr Shihabi said on Twitter.

Mr Abdulrahman al-Rashed, a Saudi columnist who runs a government-controlled media group, said "... and it is stated in the report: It is not certain that the accused team was on a journey to get rid of Khashoggi". He too said there was "no smoking gun".

Saudi Arabia's biggest newspapers and television channels did not cover the release of the report, instead showing sports events and other unrelated programming.

In its evening bulletin, Saudi-owned Al Arabiya referred to the report briefly, focusing on what it said was the absence of concrete evidence.

"The nation is fortified," wrote the conservative and semi-official Okaz newspaper on the front page of its weekend edition, with a large picture of the Crown Prince smiling. "The Biden administration will soon realise that the complex issues of the region will not find a solution, except through a new and exceptional agreement with its partners in the region that includes holding Teheran accountable," Okaz said.

Activists and rights groups, however, clamoured for justice and sanctions against Saudi Arabia and the Crown Prince on social media.

"Thank you, Joe Biden for transparency about Jamal Khashoggi's murder. Now we need sanctions on the Saudi prince responsible," Democracy for the Arab World Now, a US-based human rights group founded by Mr Khashoggi, said in a statement.

Ms Hatice Cengiz, Mr Khashoggi's Turkish fiancee, tweeted:"#justiceforjamal."

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 28, 2021, with the headline 'Riyadh rejects American intelligence report on journalist's killing'. Subscribe