Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman told an aide in 2017 he would use “a bullet” on Jamal Khashoggi if the Washington Post columnist didn’t stop criticizing the Kingdom, the New York Times reported Thursday.
The revelation came on the same day a United Nations investigator looking into Khashoggi’s murder last fall said the evidence suggested the killing was “planned and perpetrated” by the Saudi state, which then blocked Turkish efforts at an investigation.
In her preliminary report, U.N. special rapporteur Agnes Callamard said that the evidence gathered on her recent trip to Turkey demonstrated “a prima facie case that [showed Khashoggi was] the victim of a brutal and premeditated killing, planned and perpetrated by officials of the State of Saudi Arabia” and others under their direction.
Both reports add to the mounting evidence that the directive to kill Khashoggi came from the top of the Saudi government.
But despite the CIA having concluded that bin Salman himself ordered Khashoggi's murder, President Donald Trump has cast doubt on that assessment, choosing to instead emphasize the importance of the U.S.-Saudi relationship.
Friday is the deadline for Trump to respond to a request from U.S. senators under the Magnitsky Act to determine whether bin Salman ordered the Khashoggi murder — and in doing so was responsible for a gross violation of human rights, which could result in the triggering of U.S. sanctions.
But reports ahead of the deadline suggested that the White House intends to double down on its defense of the crown prince, insisting there was no smoking gun linking him to the killing.
Saudis “obstructed Turkish investigation”
In her report, Callamard, the U.N. special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, said she was unable to establish whether the killers’ plan had been to kill Khashoggi — or whether they had intended to just abduct him but then killed him when abduction failed.
However, she said it was clear that much of the preparation took place after Khashoggi’s first trip to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, on Sept. 28, including three teams of operatives traveling to the consulate, the presence of a Khashoggi lookalike seen leaving the building, and the disposal of his body.
Khashoggi was last seen alive entering the Saudi consulate to obtain documents on Oct. 2. The subsequent Turkish investigation into his disappearance was “seriously curtailed and undermined” by the Saudis refusing access to the consulate until Oct. 15, Callamard said, hampering efforts to gather vital forensic evidence.
Callamard also said Saudi operatives had exploited diplomatic immunity to carry out the murder, and said it was “unconscionable” that Saudi authorities had still not revealed the whereabouts of Khashoggi’s remains — even after admitting he was killed at the consulate.
Her final report, due to be delivered to the U.N. Human Rights Council in June, will include guidance on who should be formally held criminally accountable for the murder.
Crown prince said he’d use “a bullet” on Khashoggi
According to the separate Times report, bin Salman told an aide a year before Khashoggi’s killing that he would use “a bullet” on the writer if he didn’t return to Saudi Arabia and stop his criticism of the government.
The remark was picked up by U.S. intelligence agencies monitoring the Saudi leadership, but only transcribed recently amid a push to establish the background to the murder.
The report said the conversation took place in September 2017, the same month Khashoggi gained a powerful platform for his critiques of the Saudi government in an opinion column in The Washington Post.
U.S. intelligence officials took the remark to mean the crown prince was prepared to kill Khashoggi if he could not be lured back to the Kingdom, the newspaper reported.
U.S. intelligence agencies say they believe bin Salman ordered Khashoggi’s killing, which Turkish investigators say involved the journalist being strangled, then dismembered, inside the consulate.
After initially denying any knowledge of the death, Riyadh eventually admitted he was murdered at the consulate and claimed the killing was carried out by a “rogue” team of Saudi agents acting independently of bin Salman’s wishes.
The Kingdom has put 11 people on trial for the murder, seeking the death penalty for five of them, and has rejected Turkey’s request for extradition of the suspects.
Cover Image: Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is pictured while meeting with the Tunisian President at the presidential palace in Carthage on the eastern outskirts of the capital Tunis on November 27, 2018. (FETHI BELAID/AFP/Getty Images)