Saudi Govt Planned Jamal Khashoggi Hit: NY Times

WASHINGTON — Top Saudi leaders deployed a 15-man hit squad to lay in wait for dissident writer Jamal Khashoggi inside Riyadh’s consulate in Istanbul, The New York Times said in an explosive story.

Among the assassination team was a forensic expert who brought a bone saw to dismember Khashoggi’s body after killing him, the Times re­ported on Tuesday, citing an unidenti­fied “senior official” as saying.

Al Jazeera could not immediately verify the news report.

The hit squad finished the murder operation within two hours and de­parted Turkey for various countries, said the Times’ source, citing informa­tion from “top Turkish officials”.

“It is like Pulp Fiction,” the senior US official was quoted as saying, re­ferring to the graphically violent 1994 Hollywood movie by director Quentin Tarantino. Accusations the Saudi lead­ership directly ordered the alleged as­sassination of Khashoggi will put fur­ther pressure on the United States and other allies to demand a transparent investigation, with possible serious repercussions to bilateral relations if it does not come to fruition.

Saudi officials have denied any involvement in Khashoggi’s disap­pearance and alleged murder, saying he left the consulate on October 2. Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Er­dogan has demanded Riyadh to prove his departure from the building.

Turkey’s government hasn’t provid­ed evidence after a spate of anonymous allegations that the Saudi writer was killed inside the Istanbul consulate.

Daily Sabah, a Turkish newspa­per with close ties to the government, named and published photos on Tues­day of the alleged 15-member Saudi as­sassination team accused of travelling to Istanbul on the day Khashoggi dis­appeared. The suspects are wanted by Turkish authorities for questioning.

‘Explaining to do’

American Senator Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Re­lations Committee, said on Tues­day “everything today points to” Khashoggi’s murder last week inside the Saudi consulate.

Corker told The Daily Beast his view was reaffirmed after viewing classified intelligence about the disappearance.

“It points to the idea that whatev­er has happened to him, the Saudis – I mean, they’ve got some explaining to do,” Corker was quoted as saying.

Al Jazeera’s Patty Culhane, re­porting from Washington, DC, said the deluge of news reports will in­crease pressure on the US govern­ment to act.

“This was a prominent American columnist who is beloved among a small group of the intelligence elite in Washington, DC, and they are speaking out. This story is making front-page news. It is being greeted by a sense of outrage, and that is only growing as each story reveals new in­formation,” she said.

‘Lay hands on him’

Meanwhile on Tuesday, the Wash­ington Post – for whom Khashoggi wrote columns after fleeing Saudi Arabia over fears of retribution for his critical commentary – reported US intelligence intercepted communica­tions of Saudi officials planning to ab­duct the prominent journalist.

“Saudis wanted to lure Khashoggi back to Saudi Arabia and lay hands on him there,” the Post quoted a person fa­miliar with the information as saying.

It was not clear whether the Sau­dis intended to arrest and interrogate Khashoggi or to kill him – or if the US warned Khashoggi he was a target, the source told the newspaper.

Khashoggi entered the consulate on October 2 to handle a routine pa­perwork issue but he never came out, according to family and friends, as well as Turkish authorities.

The US resident has written ar­ticles over the past year during his self-imposed exile that were criti­cal of Saudi Crown Prince Moham­med bin Salman.

Khashoggi, 59, has had a long career as a senior journalist in Saudi Arabia and also as an adviser to top officials.

Powerful crown prince

But since the emergence of Prince bin Salman, 33, as the centre of power in the kingdom last year, Khashoggi has been openly critical of the monarchy.

He assailed the prince’s reforms as hollow, accusing him of introduc­ing a new Saudi era of “fear, intimida­tion, arrests and public shaming”.

Robert Pearson, a former US am­bassador to Turkey, said the case could change the relationship be­tween the US and Saudi Arabia.

“They must give a transpar­ent explanation very quickly, oth­erwise the tide will quickly turn against them. It’s now been a week and nothing has been shown to prove about his (Khashoggi’s) safe­ty,” he told Al Jazeera.

He noted 47 US senators recently voted to ban US arms sales to Saudi Arabia – four short of a majority.

“It is beginning to reach a genuine crisis point now, which can be solved very quickly if the Saudis are really on the spot,” said Pearson.

“The arms sales bill, the war in Yemen – those are the kinds of things that can turn very quickly into a po­litical statement that will damage Saudi’s relationship with the United States, and damage Saudi’s reputa­tion worldwide.”

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