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Feb. 27, 2021, 12:18 a.m. EST

U.S. intelligence assessment concludes Saudi crown prince OK’d capture or killing of journalist Khashoggi

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Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — Saudi Arabia’s crown prince likely approved an operation to kill or capture a U.S.-based journalist inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, according to a newly declassified U.S. intelligence report released Friday that could escalate pressure on the Biden administration to hold the kingdom accountable for a murder that drew bipartisan and international outrage.

The central conclusion of the report was widely expected given that intelligence officials were said to have reached it soon after the brutal Oct. 2, 2018, murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a critic of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s authoritarian consolidation of power.

The intelligence report made public Friday by the Biden administration was reportedly completed in the weeks and months immediately following Khashoggi’s disappearance but kept under wraps by then-President Donald Trump. According to famed journalist Bob Woodward’s 2020 book “Rage,” Trump boasted of his role in averting a U.S. crackdown against the prince or the kingdom in the wake of the abduction and killing, reportedly saying, “ I saved his ass.

President Joe Biden reportedly spoke with Saudi King Salman, father of the crown prince, ahead of the release of the intelligence report and was expected to apprise him of the report’s conclusions and upcoming public release.

See: Biden set to reveal U.S. intelligence findings on Saudi leadership role in Khashoggi killing that Trump administration kept under wraps

See: Woodward responds to criticism over withheld Trump virus comments

Author and commentator Khashoggi, a Saudi national, was based in the U.S. and writing for the Washington Post at the time of his death and had traveled to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to secure documentation for his planned wedding.

The public assignment of responsibility amounted to an extraordinary rebuke of the ambitious 35-year-old crown prince and was likely to set the tone for the new administration’s relationship with a country Biden has criticized but which the White House also regards in some contexts as a strategic partner.

The courtesy call between Biden and the king came later than typical, though a White House summary of the conversation said the men had discussed the countries’ longstanding partnership. The kingdom’s state-run Saudi Press Agency similarly did not mention Khashoggi’s killing in its report about the call, rather focusing on regional issues such as Iran and the ongoing war in Yemen.

Biden said in an interview with Univision late Friday that he had made clear to the king during the call that the rules were changing with the advent of his administration and that compliance with human-rights standards was no longer to be considered optional.

Trump made Saudi Arabia his first foreign destination as president in May 2017 , and was received in an uncommonly flattering manner that was believed to color his conception of the U.S.-Saudi relationship . Trump son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner developed a close association with the crown prince , often identified by the initials MBS, that reportedly included communications on the WhatsApp FB platform.

Once ushered inside the consulate in Istanbul, rather than securing the required marriage documents, Khashoggi was taken into custody and died at the hands of more than a dozen Saudi security and intelligence officials and others who had assembled ahead of his arrival, it has been determined.

Surveillance cameras had tracked his route and those of his alleged killers in Istanbul in the hours leading up to his killing.

A Turkish bug planted at the consulate reportedly captured the sound of a forensic saw, operated by a Saudi colonel who was also a forensics expert, dismembering Khashoggi’s body within an hour of his entering the building. The whereabouts of his remains have remained unknown.

The crown prince said in 2019 he took “full responsibility” for the killing as it happened on his watch, but he denied ordering it. Saudi officials have said Khashoggi’s killing was the work of rogue security and intelligence officials. Saudi Arabian courts last year announced they had sentenced eight Saudi nationals to prison in Khashoggi’s killing. They were not identified.

MarketWatch contributed.

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