Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) told the White House Jamal Khashoggi was a “dangerous Islamist” — days after the journalist was tortured, killed and dismembered inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, according to reports published Thursday.
MBS, Saudi Arabia’s de facto leader, spoke on the phone to Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and National Security Adviser John Bolton on Oct. 9, a week after Khashoggi’s disappearance, officials told The Washington Post and The New York Times.
Bolton disagreed with the crown prince’s assessment, according to the sources.
MBS tried to paint Khashoggi, a columnist for The Washington Post and a critic of the Saudi regime, as a threat to the Kingdom, claiming he was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood.
At the time of the phone call, Riyadh had yet to admit Khashoggi had been murdered inside the consulate.
The phone call stands in contrast to the crown prince’s words at an international economic conference in Riyadh last week: “The incident that happened is very painful, for all Saudis. The incident is not justifiable.”
Family members of the slain dissident hit out at the crown prince’s characterization Friday. “Jamal Khashoggi was not a member of the Muslim Brotherhood,” the family said in a statement. “He denied such claims repeatedly over the past several years. Jamal Khashoggi was not a dangerous person in any way possible. To claim otherwise would be ridiculous.”
Saudi Arabia has denied the reports.
While many details of Khashoggi’s death remain unanswered — including the location of his body — Turkey’s public prosecutor Wednesday gave a comprehensive official account of the journalist’s death.
Prosecutor Irfan Fidan said that Khashoggi was strangled as soon as he entered the Saudi consulate, then dismembered. However, Fidan expressed frustration at the failure of the joint Saudi-Turkish investigation to get further answers.
“Despite our well-intentioned efforts to reveal the truth, no concrete results have come out of those meetings,” the official said.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Thursday the U.S. would impose sanctions on the individuals involved in the killing, but added it would be a “handful more weeks” before they had enough evidence to proceed.
Despite the possible sanctions, the White House is set to stand by the crown prince, according to White House officials speaking to the New York Times.
The Trump administration views Saudi Arabia as key to its security plans for the region. It also wants to ensure an arms deal worth a potential $110 billion is not jeopardized.
Middle Eastern leaders, including Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, reached out in recent days to urge the White House to continue its support for MBS.
Washington’s European allies — Germany, Britain and France — have been far more critical of the regime following the murder.
Despite Saudi Arabia’s shifting narrative — from denying any knowledge to admitting the killing was premeditated — the crown prince has retained an iron grip on power, bolstered by Trump’s support.
The White House is seeking to use the Khashoggi scandal as a way of pressuring the regime into a ceasefire in Yemen, with Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and Pompeo both issuing calls this week to end the bloodshed.
Cover image: Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attends the Future Investment Initiative (FII) conference in the Saudi capital Riyadh on October 23, 2018. (FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP/Getty Images)