US intelligence services reportedly intercepted communications in which Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia said he would use “a bullet” against Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, if he did not stop publishing unflattering reports about the country, according to current and former US and foreign officials cited in a New York Times report published Thursday.
The crown prince reportedly said the remarks to Turki Aldakhil, a top aide, in September 2017. US analysts believe the crown prince may have been speaking metaphorically when referring to using “a bullet,” but concluded that his desire to silence Khashoggi was evident, The Times said.
In the recording, the crown prince reportedly said he wanted Khashoggi to return to the kingdom, a trip that Khashoggi had been wary about due to his fraught relationship with Saudi Arabia. According to the intelligence report, the crown prince reportedly complained to Aldakhil that Khashoggi’s reports were hurting his image as a reformer.
Aldakhil denied the implications of the recording in a statement to The Times.
“These allegations are categorically false,” Aldakhil reportedly said. “They appear to be a continuation of various efforts by different parties to connect His Royal Highness Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to this horrific crime. These efforts will prove futile.”
Another aide reportedly pushed back against Mohammed bin Salman’s threats, but the crown prince stressed that Saudi Arabia ought not to worry about how other countries perceive its rule over its citizens.
The communications were reportedly analyzed after US intelligence agencies combed through Mohammed bin Salman’s text messages and calls, a routine procedure for other foreign officials, according to The Times.
The conversation provided further evidence of Mohammed bin Salman’s alleged role in the gruesome murder of Khashoggi.
On October 2, 2018, the 59-year-old Khashoggi, went to the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, to obtain documentation to marry his fiancée, Hatice Cengiz. He was never seen leaving the building and is believed to have been assassinated by Saudi agents. The CIA reportedly concluded with “high confidence” that the crown price had ordered the assassination.
Weeks after Khashoggi’s disappearance and after giving numerous conflicting reports, Saudi officials finally admitted Khashoggi had died after an altercation. However, Saudi Arabia denied having intentionally killed him, despite reports of overwhelming evidence to the contrary from US and Turkish intelligence agencies.