CIA: Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Ordered Khashoggi Murder

The CIA believes Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul, sources familiar with the matter told media outlets.

Sources told Reuters the CIA had briefed other parts of the U.S. government, including Congress, on its assessment, which contradicts Saudi government assertions that Prince Mohammed was not involved.

The Washington Post reported that the CIA's assessment is partly based on a phone call made by the crown prince's brother, Prince Khaled bin Salman, Saudi ambassador to the U.S.

According to the report, Prince Khaled called Khashoggi on the orders of his brother to assure the dissident he would be safe visiting the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

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Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attends the Future Investment Initiative (FII) conference in the Saudi capital Riyadh on October 23, 2018. Getty Images

Prince Khaled said in a Twitter post on Friday that the last contact he had had no communications with Khashoggi for almost a year.

"I never talked to him by phone and certainly never suggested he go to Turkey for any reason. I ask the US government to release any information regarding this claim," Prince Khaled said.

The Post said the CIA also examined a call from inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul after Khashoggi's killing.

Maher Mutreb, a security official who has often been seen at the crown prince's side, made the call to Saud al-Qahtani, a top aide to Prince Mohammed, to inform him the operation had been completed, the Post said, citing people familiar with the call.

Sources told the Post that there was no single piece of evidence, or "smoking gun," tying Corwn Prince Mohammed to the killing, but given his power in the kingdon the CIA assessment was that the murder could not have been committed without his approval.

"The accepted position is that there is no way this happened without him being aware or involved," the Washington Post quoted a source as saying.

The Saudi Embassy in Washington rejected the CIA assessment.

"The claims in this purported assessment is false," a spokeswoman for the embassy said in a statement. "We have and continue to hear various theories without seeing the primary basis for these speculations."

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, on a visit to Papua New Guinea Saturday, told reporters traveling with him that he could not comment on classified information.

"The murder of Jamal Khashoggi was an atrocity. It was also an affront to a free and independent press and the United States is determined to hold all of those accountable who are responsible for that murder," he said, but added that Washington wanted to preserve its relationship with Saudi Arabia.

The State Department declined to comment.

Trump and top officials of his administration have said Saudi Arabia must be held to account for any involvement in Khashoggi's death, but they have also stressed the importance of the alliance.

U.S. officials have said Saudi Arabia, a major oil supplier, plays an important part in countering what they see as Iran's malign role in the region, and Trump has repeatedly said he does not want to imperil U.S. arms sales to the kingdom.

The CIA's assessment is the most emphatic to date tying Crown Prince Mohammed to the murder.

While the Trump administration on Thursday imposed sanctions on 17 Saudis for their role in Khashoggi's killing, many lawmakers think the United States should take a tougher stance, and the CIA's findings are likely to embolden that view.

Khashoggi, a critic of the Saudi government and a columnist for the Washington Post, was killed at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2 when he went there to pick up documents he needed for his planned marriage to a Turkish woman.

Khashoggi had resisted pressure from Riyadh for him to return home. Saudi officials have said a team of 15 Saudi nationals were sent to confront Khashoggi at the consulate and that he was accidentally killed in a chokehold by men who were trying to force him to return to the kingdom.

Turkish officials have said the killing was intentional and have been pressuring Saudi Arabia to extradite those responsible to stand trial.

An adviser to Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday accused Saudi Arabia of trying to cover up the murder.

Saudi Arabia's public prosecutor said on Thursday that he was seeking the death penalty for five suspects charged in the killing. The prosecutor, Shalaan al-Shalaan, told reporters the crown prince knew nothing of the operation, in which Khashoggi's body was dismembered and removed from the consulate.

U.S. officials have been skeptical that Prince Mohammed would not have known about plans to kill Khashoggi, given his control over Saudi Arabia

CIA: Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Ordered Khashoggi Murder | World