The Central Intelligence Agency has concluded Saudi Arabia’s powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, US media reported Friday.
This comes bare 24 hours after Saudi prosecutor exonerated the prince of involvement in the brutal murder.
But The Washington Post, which broke the story, said the CIA found that 15 Saudi agents flew on government aircraft to Istanbul and assassinated Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate.
Khashoggi, a Post columnist, had gone to the consulate to obtain documents necessary to marry his Turkish fiancee.
Saudi Arabia — which quickly dismissed the reported CIA findings — has repeatedly changed its official narrative of the October 2 murder, first denying any knowledge of Khashoggi’s whereabouts and later saying he was killed when an argument degenerated into a fistfight.
According to the Post, the CIA examined multiple intelligence sources, among them a phone call between the prince’s brother — the Saudi ambassador to the United States — and Khashoggi.
The ambassador reportedly told the late journalist that he would be safe to go to the consulate in Istanbul and get the papers he needed.
The US intelligence agency also said in determining the crown prince’s role it considered him a “de facto ruler” of Saudi Arabia: “The accepted position is that there is no way this happened without him being aware or involved,” the Post quoted an official as saying.
The New York Times later reported that the CIA findings were also based on calls from the kill team to one of the crown prince’s senior aides.
But the paper said that while the intercepts showed Prince Mohammed was working to lure Khashoggi to Saudi Arabia, the crown prince had not said in the calls that he wanted Khashoggi killed.
The Times cited officials as saying US and Turkish intelligence so far have not found direct evidence connecting the prince to Khashoggi’s killing.
Following the reports, US Vice President Mike Pence on Saturday said Washington “is determined to hold all of those accountable who are responsible for that murder.”