The Saudi royal family has denied knowing anything about Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s disappearance. However, U.S. officials are apparently starting to question whether Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman may have known about it. A man who has been named among the 15 suspects who arrived in Turkey the day the journalist disappeared has reportedly been linked to the Saudi prince.
No firm evidence of prince’s involvement in Jamal Khashoggi’s disappearance
U.S. and European officials told The New York Times that so far they have no direct evidence indicating that the Saudi prince was actually involved in Jamal Khashoggi’s disappearance. They don’t know if Prince Mohammed himself may have ordered the Saudi journalist to be killed or if he intended that Khashoggi be detained and returned to Saudi Arabia instead.
He was last seen earlier this month going into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. He was picking up documents he needed to marry his fiancee, Turkish citizen Hatice Cengiz. Turkish officials allege he was killed and dismembered inside the Saudi consulate, but Saudi officials claim he left the consulate and disappeared afterward.
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All U.S. officials have on the Saudi prince’s alleged involvement at this point is circumstantial evidence which may suggest the crown prince was involved. Officials told the Times that some members of the prince’s security detail were in Turkey at the time Khashoggi disappeared while visiting the Saudi consulate. They also allegedly intercepted communications between Saudi officials said to be talking about taking Khashoggi into custody.
Suspect in Jamal Khashoggi’s disappearance tied to Saudi prince
The New York Times independently verified that at least nine of the 15 suspects Turkish authorities identified were linked to the Saudi government. The Independent reports that four of the suspects have found to be part of Prince Mohammad’s personal security detail.
U.S. officials believe the Saudi prince may have been involved in Jamal Khashoggi’s disappearance because he exercises total control over his security detail. Thus, they feel it’s unlikely that any operation would be carried out without him knowing about it. If they are correct and Prince Mohammed did know, it would mean that “rogue killers” did not carry out the operation without official approval. U.S. President Donald Trump suggested that potential scenario this week as he tried to exonerate the Saudi royal family, who denies knowledge of the Washington Post columnist’s disappearance.
Maher Abdulaziz Mutreb is named as one of those among the 15 suspects identified by Turkish authorities. According to The New York Times, he has been seen with Prince Mohammad getting off airplanes as part of his security detail. Photographs are said to show him acting as a guard for the Saudi prince during his trips to the U.S. Citing a former official, The Independent reports that Mutreb “is trusted by the [Saudi] royal family.”
The Turkish-language newspaper Yeni Safak is reporting that another one of the 15 Saudi men who entered Turkey the day of Jamal Khashoggi’s disappearance was killed in a “suspicious traffic accident” in Riyadh. The newspaper offered few details about the crash which killed Saudi Air Force Lieutenant Mashal Saad al-Bostani.
Additionally, the Hurriyet Daily News alleges that Istanbul-based Saudi consul Mohammad al-Otaibi could be the “next execution” tied to the journalist’s disappearance. Al-Otaibi’s voice was allegedly heard on the audio recording Turkish officials claim is from the missing journalist’s interrogation at the consulate. The newspaper alleges Prince Mohammed is trying to “get rid of the evidence” related to Jamal Khashoggi’s disappearance.
U.S. intelligence said to be assessing Prince Mohammed
According to the NYT, U.S. intelligence officials are now assessing Prince Mohammed and compiling a report about him to be presented to Trump. The assessment comes on the heels of U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s diplomatic visit to Saudi Arabia to discuss Jamal Khashoggi’s disappearance. The trip did not bring about a quick resolution to the diplomatic crisis between Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the U.S.
Pompeo met privately with Prince Mohammed on Tuesday. However, the NYT describes the meeting as “highly scripted,” based on details from an official briefed on the meeting. Pompeo reportedly asked the Saudi prince what happened, and Prince Mohammed denied being involved in Jamal Khashoggi’s disappearance. The U.S. secretary of state urged him to finish their investigation transparently and as soon as possible.
The Times adds that Pompeo told the Saudi Prince that “even if he did not know whether Mr. Khashoggi had been killed, he would have to take responsibility to help the kingdom avoid the consequences of an international backlash.” The newspaper cited a source familiar with the meeting.