WASHINGTON: The CIA has concluded that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman personally ordered the elimination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the US media reported on Saturday.

The Saudi government has rejected the claim as false, insisting that the de facto ruler was not involved.

“In reaching its conclusions, the CIA examined multiple sources of intelligence, including a phone call that the prince’s brother Khalid bin Salman, the Saudi ambassador to the United States, had with Khashoggi,” The Washington Post, which first broke the story, reported.

The ambassador told Mr Khashoggi, a contributing columnist to the Post, that he should go to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to retrieve the documents and gave him assurances that it would be safe to do so.

The ambassador, however, denied the Post’s report. “I never told Khashoggi to travel to Turkey,” he tweeted, asking the US government to “release any information regarding this claim.”

The CIA also based its assessment on “the crown prince’s control of Saudi Arabia, which is such that the killing would not have taken place without his approval,” The New York Times added.

Intercepts of the crown prince’s calls in the days before the killing, and calls by the kill team to a senior aide to the crown prince further strengthened the CIA’s conclusion.

“The CIA has believed for weeks that Prince Mohammed was culpable in Mr Khashoggi’s killing but had been hesitant to definitively conclude that he directly ordered it. The agency has passed that assessment on to lawmakers and Trump administration officials,” the Times added.

A senior US official told CNN that recording provided by the Turkish government and other evidence also helped the CIA in making this assessment.

But a Saudi embassy spokeswoman, Fatimah Baeshen, told various media outlets that “the claims in this purported assessment are false. We have and continue to hear various theories without seeing the primary basis for these speculations”.

The Post reported that senior US officials had high confidence in the CIA’s assessment. A spokesman for the CIA declined to comment to the Post.

Mr Khashoggi, a former Saudi royal insider who became a critic of the Saudi government, went missing in October after he visited the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to obtain papers for his upcoming marriage.

Ms Baeshen told the Post that Prince Khalid and Mr Khashoggi never discussed “anything related to going to Turkey”.

Maher Mutreb, an alleged member of the Saudi hit team and a security official for the crown prince, placed the phone call to a top aide for bin Salman informing the aide that the job had been done, people familiar with the call told the Post. The report claimed that the CIA does not know the location of Mr Khashoggi’s remains.

The US media noted that Mr Khashoggi’s assassination has created a crisis for the Trump administration and drawn attention to President Donald Trump’s business ties to Saudi Arabia and the relationship between bin Salman and Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner.

On Thursday, the Saudi Public Prosecutor’s Office said 11 people had been charged for their involvement in the death of Mr Khashoggi. Five face capital punishment for being directly involved in “ordering and executing the crime”.

Published in Dawn, November 18th, 2018

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