The CIA has concluded that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul last month, contradicting the Saudi government’s claims that he was not involved in the killing, according to people familiar with the matter.
The Central Intelligence Agency’s assessment, in which officials have said they have high confidence, is the most definitive to date linking Crown Prince Mohammed to the operation and complicates the Trump administration’s efforts to preserve its relationship with a close ally.
A team of 15 Saudi agents flew to Istanbul on government aircraft in October and killed Mr Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate, where he had come to pick up documents that he needed for his planned marriage to a Turkish woman.
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 Mr Khashoggi, according to the people familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the intelligence.
Prince Khalid told Mr Khashoggi, a contributing columnist to The Washington 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.
It is not clear if Prince Khalid knew that Mr Khashoggi would be killed, but he made the call at his brother’s direction, according to the people familiar with the call, which was intercepted by US intelligence.
Ms Fatimah Baeshen, a spokesman for the Saudi embassy in Washington, DC, said the ambassador and Mr Khashoggi never discussed “anything related to going to Turkey”.
She added that the claims in the CIA’s “purported assessment are false”. “We have and continue to hear various theories without seeing the primary basis for these speculations.”
The CIA’s conclusion about Crown Prince Mohammed’s role was also based on the agency’s assessment of the prince as the country’s de facto ruler who oversees even minor affairs in the kingdom.
“The accepted position is that there is no way this happened without him being aware or involved,” said a US official familiar with the CIA’s conclusions.
The CIA sees Crown Prince Mohammed as a “good technocrat”, the US official said, but volatile and arrogant, someone who “goes from zero to 60, doesn’t seem to understand that there are some things you can’t do”.
CIA analysts believe he has a firm grip on power and is not in danger of losing his status as heir to the throne despite the Khashoggi scandal.