Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman told a senior aide he would go after Jamal Khashoggi “with a bullet” a year before the journalist was killed inside the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate, according to a US media report.
US intelligence understood that Mohammed, the kingdom’s 33-year-old de facto ruler, was ready to kill the journalist, although he might not have literally meant to shoot him, the New York Times reported.
After initially denying any knowledge of Khashoggi’s disappearance, the kingdom has acknowledged that a team killed him inside the diplomatic mission, but described it as a rogue operation that did not involve the crown prince.
The conversation was intercepted by US intelligence agencies, as part of routine efforts by the US National Security Agency and other agencies to capture and store the communications of global leaders, including allied ones, the newspaper reported.
However, it was only recently transcribed because of mounting efforts by US intelligence to find conclusive proof linking Prince Mohammed to the killing.
The conversation took place between the crown prince and an aide, Turki Aldakhil, in September 2017 — about 13 months before the killing, the paper said.
Prince Mohammed said that if Khashoggi could not be enticed to return to Saudi Arabia, then he should be brought back by force.
If neither method worked, then he would go after Khashoggi “with a bullet,” the paper reported.
The report came after a UN official looking into the case said that the Saudi Arabian government “seriously curtailed and undermined” the Turkish investigation into the murder of Khashoggi.
UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions Agnes Callamard said that Khashoggi was the victim of a “brutal, premeditated killing planned and perpetrated by officials of the state of Saudi Arabia.”
He was lured into the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul on the promise of being given documents that would help him remarry. Inside he was suffocated and dismembered, a Turkish investigation said.
In a preliminary report, Callamard said that she had heard “parts of the chilling and gruesome audio material obtained and retained by the Turkish intelligence agency.”
Callamard said that Turkey’s efforts to carry out a proper investigation had “been seriously curtailed and undermined by Saudi Arabia.”
“Woefully inadequate time and access was granted to Turkish investigators to conduct a professional and effective crime scene examination and search required by international standards for investigation,” she said.
Callamard is to deliver a final report to the UN Human Rights Council in June.
On Thursday, she provided an assessment of her visit to Turkey from Monday last week to Sunday to pursue the investigation.
She said that Saudi Arabian killers had exploited diplomatic immunity to carry out the murder.
“Guarantees of immunity were never intended to facilitate the commission of a crime and exonerate its authors of their criminal responsibility or to conceal a violation of the right to life,” Callamard said. “The circumstances of the killing and the response by state representatives in its aftermath may be described as ‘immunity for impunity.’”
US intelligence chiefs have told the US Congress that the prince almost certainly ordered the killing or was aware of it, but US President Donald Trump and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have said that the evidence is incomplete and investigations would continue.
Riyadh has denied that the Prince Mohammed was involved.
The Saudi Arabian public prosecutor has charged 11 men with the murder, saying last month that he would seek the death penalty for five.
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