A fed-up Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman knew just how he would deal with Jamal Khashoggi, the Washington Post columnist who was killed in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul if the journalist did not stop assailing his government.
He would silence him with “a bullet,” the New York Times reported.
The crown prince said this to a top aide in 2017, the newspaper said, citing unnamed current and former U.S. and foreign officials described as having first-hand knowledge of intelligence reports on the conversation.
If true, the threat by the crown prince is a significant indication Khashoggi had become a preoccupying irritant. The Times called the new development the "most detailed evidence to date" that the Saudi crown prince saw murder as a way of dealing with Khashoggi.
The crown prince’s remark was made to his aide, Turki Aldakhil, and was picked up by U.S. intelligence agents, according to the Times.
Around that time, Khashoggi had started writing a column for the Washington Post, continuing to criticize the Saudi government. Saudi officials discussed ways of getting him to travel to Saudi Arabia. The prince suggested that if Khashoggi did not willingly return to Saudi Arabia, he might have to be brought back forcibly, the Times reported.
If all that failed, the prince added, then maybe the answer was “a bullet,” the Times said, citing the officials who had seen the intelligence reports on the conversation.
The Times said intelligence officials think the prince may not literally have meant that he wanted to shoot Khashoggi, but that his remark was a message about murder being among the ways to finally address the journalist’s public attacks on the government that the prince found intolerant.
Khashoggi was killed and dismembered inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey last October. He had gone to the Saudi consulate to get certification of his divorce, so he could marry his fiancée. His finacee waited for him outside, but he never came out.
His remains have not been found. Not long after the journalist's murder, a preliminary investigation by the CIA found it had been carried out under orders from the prince.
The Wall Street Journal earlier had reported that the prince spoke with aides in 2017 about ways to get Khoshoggi to Saudi Arabia or, if that failed, to a third country.
The brutal killing — described by Turkish and U.S. officials as an elaborate plot — has drawn an international outcry about press freedom and Saudi government tactics to quell criticism.
Turkey, which is carrying out its own investigation into Khashoggi’s murder, has been frustrated by what Ankara says is a lack of cooperation by Riyadh. It has also called for an international inquiry.
After denying for weeks that Khashoggi was killed in the consulate, Saudi Arabia late last year indicted 11 people in the killing, including members from the crown prince’s entourage, and is seeking the death penalty against five of them.
Agnes Callamard, an independent U.N. human rights expert, has criticized the kingdom for its lack of transparency in the proceedings over the grisly slaying.
Saudi Arabia has not revealed the defendants’ names or the names of their lawyers. The kingdom’s chief prosecutor, Saud Al-Mojeb, has said that of 21 people taken into custody in the case, 11 have been indicted and referred to trial. It’s unclear if they remain detained during the trial or where they’re being held.
Turkey has sought the extradition of the Saudi suspects, but the kingdom has rejected any notion they could be tried abroad and has not allowed Turkey access to them.
Callamard said she was still waiting for a response from Saudi authorities to a request she made three weeks ago for an invitation to visit the kingdom.
She said the next phase of her investigation will take her to Washington to speak with officials from countries that have “taken a deep interest in the case” and have been in touch with Saudi and Turkish officials.
Earlier on Thursday, Callamard issued a statement through the U.N. office in Geneva, saying that Saudi Arabia had undermined Turkey’s efforts to investigate Khashoggi’s death, calling it a “premeditated killing” planned and carried out by Saudi officials.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.