Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi may have been the victim of a secret campaign lunched over a year before his death by Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS) to silence his critics. The New York Times reported that this included the surveillance, kidnapping, detention and torture of Saudi citizens critical of the regime.
Details of the secret campaign were uncovered by American officials who have read classified intelligence reports about the plan. It is said to include some of the members of the same team that killed and dismembered Khashoggi in Istanbul in October, suggesting that his killing was a particularly egregious part of a wider campaign to silence Saudi dissidents.
Members of the team that killed Khashoggi are believed to be part of an assassination team called the Saudi Rapid Intervention Group. US officials said that the group has been involved in at least a dozen operations starting in 2017.
Details of the operations carried out by the clandestine group shows that they have been engaged in 12 different operations including ones where victims were forcibly repatriated from other Arab countries and where prisoners were detained and abused in palaces belonging to the crown prince and his father, King Salman Bin Abdulaziz.
Incredibly, American officials familiar with the intelligence reports cited in the report revealed that the rapid intervention team had been so busy that last June its leader asked a top adviser to Prince Mohammed whether the crown prince would give the team bonuses for Eid Al-Fitr, the holiday marking the end of Ramadan.
Riyadh has strongly denied MBS played a role in the killing of Khashoggi in spite of evidence from the CIA which concluded with a medium to high degree of confidence that the crown prince ordered the murder. This admission by US officials will further fuel these suspicions despite Riyadh’s claim that it is taking the incident seriously by charging 11 Saudis with murder and seeking the death penalty for five of them.
The Times report raised doubts over Saudi Arabia’s account noting that the country’s officials acknowledged that the Saudi intelligence service had a standing order to bring dissidents home but they did not acknowledge that a specific team had been set up to do it. Saudi officials declined to confirm or deny that such a team existed, or answer questions about its work.