The CIA did not conclude that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, President Donald Trump has revealed.
Jamal Khashoggi was killed on October 2 in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
However, officials told media such an operation would have needed the crown prince’s approval and Saudi Arabia maintains it was a “rogue operation”.
Asked about the CIA’s reported evaluation by reporters in Florida, President Trump said: “They didn’t conclude.”
The president’s comments on November 21 came as the Saudi crown prince began a regional tour of the Middle East, starting with the United Arab Emirates – his first official trip abroad since Jamal Khashoggi was killed.
Prince Mohammed is also expected to participate in a G20 meeting of world leaders in Buenos Aires at the end of the month that will be attended by leaders from the US, Turkey and a number of European countries.
Meanwhile, France has announced that it is imposing sanctions on 18 Saudi nationals – the same individuals targeted with sanctions by the US, UK and Germany – allegedly linked to the Khashoggi murder.
Their list of individuals does not include Prince Mohammed, a spokesperson for the French ministry of foreign affairs said.
President Trump told reporters in Florida: “They have feelings certain ways. I have the report, they have not concluded, I don’t know if anyone’s going to be able to conclude the crown prince did it.”
He added: “But whether he did or whether he didn’t, he denies it vehemently. His father denies it, the king, vehemently.”
However, earlier this week, President Trump released a statement suggesting that Prince Mohammed “could very well” have known about the incident.
The president’s statement said: “[It] could very well be that the crown prince had knowledge of this tragic event – maybe he did and maybe he didn’t!”
He has repeatedly stressed the importance of Saudi Arabia to the US following the killing, calling Saudi Arabia a “steadfast partner” that has agreed to invest “a record amount of money” in the US.
Last week, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters that President Trump had confidence in the CIA following conversations with Director Gina Haspel and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo about the Khashoggi murder.
Sources quoted in the US media at the time stressed that there was no single piece of evidence linking the crown prince directly to the murder, but officials believe the killing would have required his endorsement.
Separately, the Hurriyet newspaper reported on Thursday that Director Haspel told Turkish officials last month that the CIA had a recording in which the crown prince gave instructions to “silence” Jamal Khashoggi as soon as possible.
When asked about the claims by reporters, President Trump said: “I don’t want to talk about it. You’ll have to ask them.”
Saudi Arabia says claims that the crown prince may have ordered the Khashoggi killing are false and maintains that he knew nothing about it.
As a prominent journalist, Jamal Khashoggi covered major stories including the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the rise of Osama Bin Laden for various Saudi news organizations.
For decades, Jamal Khashoggi was close to the Saudi royal family and also served as an adviser to the government.
However, he fell out of favor and went into self-imposed exile in the US last year. From there, Jamal Khashoggi wrote a monthly column in the Washington Post in which he criticized the policies of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
In his first column for the Washington Post, Jamal Khashoggi said he feared being arrested in an apparent crackdown on dissent overseen by the prince since.
In his last column, Jamal Khashoggi criticized Saudi involvement in the Yemen conflict.
Turkey also insists the order to the Saudi dissident came from the highest levels.
The Washington Post, which Jamal Khashoggi worked for, says the CIA assessment was based partly on a phone call made by the crown prince’s brother, Prince Khalid bin Salman, the Saudi ambassador to the US.
Prince Khalid allegedly called Jamal Khashoggi at the direction of his brother and gave him assurances that he would be safe to go to the consulate.
However, Prince Khalid, now back in Saudi Arabia, tweeted that he had not been in contact with Jamal Khashoggi for nearly a year.
The prince said he had never suggested Jamal Khashoggi – who had been in London for a conference until the day before his disappearance – should go to Turkey for any reason.
It is understood CIA agents have also examined a call made to a senior aide of Crown Prince Mohammed by the team that carried out the killing.
Sources quoted in the media stressed that there was no single piece of evidence linking Crown Prince Mohammed directly to the murder, but officials believe such an operation would have needed his approval.
At a news conference in Riyadh on November 15, Deputy Public Prosecutor Shalaan bin Rajih Shalaan said Jamal Khashoggi was given a lethal injection and his body was dismembered inside the consulate after his death.
The body parts were then handed over to a local “collaborator” outside the grounds, the prosecutor added.
A composite sketch of the collaborator has been produced and investigations are continuing to locate the remains.
Eleven unidentified people have been charged over Jamal Khashoggi’s death and the prosecutor is seeking the death penalty for five of them.
A Saudi intelligence officer ordered dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s murder, and not Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s public prosecutor has concluded.
The intelligence officer was tasked with persuading Jamal Khashoggi to return to Saudi Arabia, a spokesman said.
Jamal Khashoggi was given a lethal injection after a struggle in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2, he added.
The Gulf kingdom’s public prosecutor has charged 11 people over the murder and is seeking the death penalty for five of them.
Their cases have been referred to a court while investigations into another 10 people suspected of involvement continue.
Meanwhile, the US treasury department imposed economic sanctions on 17 Saudi officials who it said had “targeted and brutally killed” Jamal Khashoggi, who lived and worked in the US, and had to “face consequences for their actions”.
They included Saud al-Qahtani, a former adviser to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman who the treasury department alleged was “part of the planning and execution of the operation” that led to Jamal Khashoggi’s murder; Maher Mutreb, who it said had “coordinated and executed” the operation; and Mohammed Alotaibi, the Istanbul consul-general.
According to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the sanctions were “an important step in responding to Khashoggi’s killing” and vowed to “continue to seek all relevant facts, consult Congress, and work with other nations to hold accountable those involved”.
At a news conference in Riyadh on November 15, Deputy Public Prosecutor Shalaan bin Rajih Shalaan said Jamal Khashoggi’s body was dismembered inside the consulate after his death.
The body parts were then handed over to a local “collaborator” outside the grounds, he added. A composite sketch of the collaborator has been produced and investigations are continuing to locate the remains.
The prosecutor did not identify any of those charged with the murder.
However, Shalaan bin Rajih Shalaane said investigations had “revealed that the person who ordered the killing was the head of the negotiations team” sent to Istanbul by deputy intelligence chief Gen Ahmed al-Assiri to force Jamal Khashoggi to return to Saudi Arabia from his self-imposed exile.
“[The crown prince] did not have any knowledge about it,” the prosecutor insisted.
Crown Prince Mohammed, the son of King Salman and Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, has denied any role in what he has called a “heinous crime that cannot be justified”.
However, critics believe it is highly unlikely the crown prince would not have been aware of the operation.
Several of the 21 people arrested over the murder have been seen in his security detail in the past. Gen. Ahmed al-Assiri and Saud al-Qahtani have also been sacked over the incident.
The prosecutor said Saud al-Qahtani had been banned from travelling and remained under investigation, but he did not say what had happened to Gen. Ahmed al-Assiri.
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said “the order to kill Khashoggi came from the highest levels of the Saudi government” but that he does not believe King Salman gave it.
On November 15, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said that some of the statements by the Saudi deputy public prosecutor were “unsatisfactory”.
Turkish officials have alleged that the 15 Saudi agents who flew to Istanbul in the hours before the murder, one of whom is believed to have been a forensic pathologist working for the Saudi interior ministry, were carrying a bone saw.
Saudi Arabia has admitted journalist Jamal Khashoggi was murdered and blamed his killing on a “rogue operation”, giving a new account of an act that sparked a global outcry.
Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir told Fox News “the murder” had been a “tremendous mistake” and denied the powerful crown prince had ordered it.
Jamal Khashoggi was last seen entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey.
The Saudi government, under intense pressure to explain Jamal Khashoggi’s whereabouts, has offered conflicting accounts.
They initially said Jamal Khashoggi had left the consulate on October 2 – but on October 19 admitted for the first time he was dead, saying he had been killed in a fight. This claim met widespread skepticism.
Turkish officials believe the journalist, a prominent critic of the Saudi government, was murdered by a team of Saudi agents inside the building and say they have evidence to prove it.
Adel al-Jubeir’s comments, describing the incident as murder, are some of the most direct to come from a Saudi official.
He said: “We are determined to find out all the facts and we are determined to punish those who are responsible for this murder.”
“The individuals who did this did this outside the scope of their authority,” he added.
“There obviously was a tremendous mistake made, and what compounded the mistake was the attempt to try to cover up.”
Adel al-Jubeir also said that Saudi Arabia did not know where the body was and insisted the action had not been ordered by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, seen as the country’s most powerful figure.
“Even the senior leadership of our intelligence service was not aware of this,” he said, calling it a “rogue operation”.
However, Yeni Safak, a media outlet close to Turkey’s government, says it has information showing that the office of the crown prince received four phone calls from the consulate after the killing.
On October 21, Reuters reported it had spoken to a Saudi official who said Jamal Khashoggi had died in a chokehold after resisting attempts to return him to Saudi Arabia. His body was then rolled in a rug and given to a local “co-operator” to dispose of.
A Saudi operative then reportedly donned Jamal Khashoggi’s clothes and left the consulate.
Jamal Khashoggi is a high-profile critic of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The journalist has more than 1.6 million Twitter followers and has written for the Washington Post opinion section.
On October 2, he went to the consulate to obtain a document certifying he had divorced his ex-wife, so that he could marry his Turkish fiancée, Hatice Cengiz.
Hatice Cengiz said she waited outside for 11 hours, but he did not come out.
She said Jamal Khashoggi was required to surrender his mobile phone, which is standard practice in some diplomatic missions. He told her to call an adviser to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan if he did not return.
The head of the Turkish-Arab Media Association, Turan Kislakci, told the New York Times that Turkish police officers providing security for the consulate had checked their security cameras and did not see the journalist leave on foot. However, diplomatic cars had been seen moving in and out.
On October 3, Prince Mohammed bin Salman told Bloomberg News that Turkish authorities were welcome to search the building because “we have nothing to hide”.
He said: “He’s a Saudi citizen and we are very keen to know what happened to him. And we will continue our dialogue with the Turkish government to see what happened to Jamal there.
“My understanding is he entered and he got out after a few minutes or one hour. I’m not sure. We are investigating this through the foreign ministry to see exactly what happened at that time.”
When asked if Jamal Khashoggi faced charges in Saudi Arabia, the crown prince said his country would need to know where he was first.
Jamal Khashoggi is one of the most prominent critics of the crown prince, who has unveiled reforms praised by the West while carrying out an apparent crackdown on dissent. Human and women’s rights activists, intellectuals and clerics have been arrested – meanwhile, Saudi Arabia is waging a war in Yemen that has triggered a humanitarian crisis.
Houthi-aligned media reported that the rebels had fired a Burkan H2 ballistic missile at King Khaled International Airport, which is about 530 miles from the Yemeni border and 7 miles north-east of Riyadh, on November 4.
Saudi media reported that missile defenses intercepted the missile in flight, but that some missile fragments fell inside the airport area. No casualties were reported.
Human Rights Watch said the launch of an indiscriminate missile at a predominantly civilian airport was an apparent war crime.
On November 7, the official Saudi Press Agency (SAP) reported that in his telephone call with Prince Mohammed, Boris Johnson had “expressed his condemnation of launching a ballistic missile by Houthi coup militias” and affirmed “Britain’s stand with the kingdom of Saudi Arabia in confronting security threats”.
“For his part, the crown prince stressed that the involvement of the Iranian regime in supplying its Houthi militias with missiles is considered a direct military aggression by the Iranian regime and may be considered an act of war against the kingdom,” it added.
On November 6, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir told CNN that Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement, an Iranian proxy, was also involved.
“It was an Iranian missile launched by Hezbollah from territory occupied by the Houthis in Yemen,” he said.
Analysts see the unprecedented move as an attempt to cement the power of the heir to the throne.
Prince Mansour was the son of Prince Muqrin bin Abdulaziz, a former intelligence chief who was crown prince between January and April 2015, when he was pushed aside by Prince Mohammed’s father, King Salman.
The late prince served as a consultant to his father’s royal court and in April 2017 was among 8 young royals appointed deputy governors.
An interior ministry statement carried by the official Saudi Press Agency said Prince Mansour and seven provincial officials had boarded a helicopter on November 6 to tour a number of coastal projects west of the city of Abha.
The statement also said: “While returning in the evening of the same day, contact with the plane was lost in the vicinity of the Reda reserve.
“The authorities are currently searching for survivors as the wreckage has been found.”
Later, state news channel al-Ikhbariya announced the death of Prince Mansour.