Hours after the Saudi monarchy confirmed the death of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi, sources within the government are attempting to explicitly distance Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman from the murder.
On Friday evening, Riyadh claimed Khashoggi’s death was the result of a “fist fight” that transpired within the Kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul, a wildly implausible story for any number of reasons, not the least of which is that it appears to contradict an actual audio tape of the killing (although the tape isn’t public, it’s been described in detail to the media by numerous Turkish intelligence sources).
The Saudis are setting the stage to blame this on Gen. Ahmed al-Assiri, who was relieved of his duties on Friday.
“Blaming General Assiri could provide a plausible explanation for the killing and help deflect blame from the crown prince, who American intelligence agencies are increasingly convinced was behind Mr. Khashoggi’s disappearance”, The New York Times reported on Thursday, adding that “General Assiri is close enough to the crown prince to have easy access to his ear and has considerable authority to enlist lower ranking personnel in a mission.”
Initially, it seemed like the Saudis might try to tell the world that bin Salman gave Assiri the green light to capture Khashoggi, but not to kill him, and that whatever happened in Istanbul was the result of Assiri “misunderstanding his instructions or overstepping”.
Now, according to a source who spoke to Reuters, Riyadh may try to claim the Crown Prince had no knowledge of this whatsoever. Here’s what a “Saudi official familiar with the investigation” had to say on Friday evening:
There were no orders for them to kill him or even specifically kidnap him. MbS had no knowledge of this specific operation and certainly did not order a kidnapping or murder of anybody. He will have been aware of the general instruction to tell people to come back.
Al Arabiya is pushing the same story. “[A] source says [the] Crown Prince did not know about this operation specifically”, the Saudi-owned outlet reported.
So, the world is supposed to believe that the most powerful man in the Kingdom had no knowledge whatsoever of a 15-man operation involving two Gulfstream IV jets and a confrontation with a famous dissident in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
To say that is implausible would be to grossly understate the case. On that note, we’ll leave you with this from the Washington Post:
The Turks have released photos and passport and flight records of the 15-member team that allegedly carried out the operation.
The documents show that at least four men closely associated with Mohammed bin Salman, including three members of his personal security team, flew to Istanbul the day of the killing, according to the New York Times. One man who has traveled extensively with the crown prince was photographed entering the consulate before Mr. Khashoggi’s arrival. The Post has reported that U.S. intelligence intercepts detected Mohammed bin Salman discussing plans to lure Mr. Khashoggi back to the kingdom so he could be detained. Experts on Saudi Arabiasay it is unthinkable that the Istanbul operation would have been carried out without the crown prince’s knowledge and approval.