U.S. bans entry to 76 Saudis over Khashoggi killing, sanctions elite unit

Tanya Simon
February 26, 2021

In this photo from November 27, 2018, Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is pictured while meeting with the Tunisian president at the presidential palace in Carthage, on the eastern outskirts of the capital Tunis.

But even as the Biden administration was praised for releasing the partially redacted assessment there were hints of frustration in Washington that Prince Mohammed would not face personal accountability for the grisly murder.

People hold signs during a protest at the Embassy of Saudi Arabia in the United States about the disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, in Washington, October 10, 2018.

There he was killed, and his body dismembered by a team sent from Riyadh under the direction of Prince Mohammed's top security aide, Saud al-Qahtani.

"We assess that Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman approved an operation in Istanbul, Turkey to capture or kill Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi", the report's executive summary states.

A classified version of the report was shared with members of Congress in late 2018.

"If the crown prince went in front of a jury, he would be convicted in 30 minutes", then-Sen. "And it's just more potential evidence that he was in the know on this".

Biden's new director of national intelligence, Avril Haines, has committed to complying with a 2019 bill that required her office to release a declassified report on Khashoggi's murder.

The panel, which was co-sponsored by the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, Columbia Global Freedom of Expression, and the Committee to Protect Journalists, had convened to discuss the documentary on Khashoggi's murder 'The Dissident', directed by Bryan Fogel, which was released last December.

Saudi officials in Washington and Riyadh did not immediately respond to the new revelations. He denied ordering the murder, however.

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He "affirmed the importance" the United States "places on universal human rights and the rule of law", the White House says.

As part of his promise to "recalibrate" relations with Saudi Arabia, Biden has cited several areas that include Saudi human rights violations and political repression, prosecution of the Saudi-led war in Yemen and the Khashoggi death.

Still, since the finding had not been officially released until now, 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 President Joe Biden has criticized but which the White House also regards in some contexts as a strategic partner.

Biden's predecessor, Donald Trump, pursued closer ties with Saudi Arabia.

Khashoggi, 59, was lured to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2, 2018, and killed by a team of operatives linked to the crown prince. In the months that followed, conflicting narratives emerged over how he died, what happened to his remains, and who was responsible.

The US intelligence agencies' assessment - which was released around 9pm Saudi time - also found that the prince's "absolute control" of the kingdom's security and intelligence organisations made it "highly unlikely" that Saudi officials would have carried out an operation like Khashoggi's murder without the prince's approval.

That explanation has been widely rejected by both the United Nations and a wide group of USA lawmakers who have maintained bin Salman's culpability.

It is expected to state that the crown prince in some capacity was connected to the killing, which involved a whole squad of Saudi agents positioned at the consulate before Khashoggi visited.

Khashoggi's remains have never been found amid speculation that they were dissolved in a Value-Added Tax of acid in the diplomatic building.

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