Jamal Khashoggi: CIA 'blames Saudi prince for murder'

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Media caption,

The BBC's Frank Gardner looks at what could happen to the man known as MBS

The CIA believes that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, according to US media reports.

Sources close to the agency said it had assessed the evidence in detail.

It is understood there is no "smoking gun" but US officials think such an operation would need the prince's approval.

Saudi Arabia has called the claim false and insisted that the crown prince knew nothing about plans for the killing.

US President Donald Trump has spoken to CIA Director Gina Haspel and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo about the CIA's assessment of the Khashoggi murder, the White House says.

Press secretary Sarah Sanders gave no details but said Mr Trump had confidence in the CIA.

Before the briefing, President Trump stressed the importance of Saudi Arabia to the US, as he has done since news of Khashoggi's killing emerged.

"They have been a truly spectacular ally in terms of jobs and economic development," he said. "I have to take a lot of things into consideration."

While there has been widespread international condemnation of Khashoggi's murder there has been little in the way of substantial action.

The journalist was killed after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on 2 October to obtain a marriage document. His body has not been found.

Turkey also insists the order to kill him came from the highest levels.

What is the CIA's finding based on?

The Washington Post, which 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 Khashoggi at the direction of his brother and gave him assurances that he would be safe to go to the consulate.

Media caption,

How has the death of Jamal Khashoggi impacted the war in Yemen?

Prince Khalid, now back in Saudi Arabia, said on Twitter that he had not been in contact with Khashoggi for nearly a year.

He said he had never suggested 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 agents have also examined a call made to a senior aide of Crown Prince bin Salman by the team that carried out the killing.

Sources quoted in the US media stressed that there was no single piece of evidence linking the crown prince directly to the murder, but officials believe such an operation would have needed his approval.

What do the Saudis say happened to Khashoggi?

At a news conference in Riyadh on Thursday, Deputy Public Prosecutor Shalaan bin Rajih Shalaan said 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, he 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 the journalist's death and the prosecutor is seeking the death penalty for five of them.

Damning case but no smoking gun

By Frank Gardner, Security Correspondent, BBC News

The reported CIA assessment that MBS ordered the killing of Jamal Khashoggi largely matches those in other Western capitals, including London.

The purported intercepted phone call - denied by the Saudis - between MBS's brother in Washington, Prince Khalid bin Salman, and Khashoggi, urging him to visit the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, would appear to be at the behest of the crown prince.

A second intercepted phone call was from the hit team on the day of the murder to someone inside MBS's inner circle in Riyadh. Again, it is hard to believe this would have been without the Crown Prince's knowledge

Taken together with the SIGINT (signals intelligence), the case against MBS is damning but still circumstantial.

Government officials do not believe there is a metaphorical "smoking gun" that explicitly ties MBS to the murder. But drawing on well-established diplomatic and intelligence contacts, they know that in that part of the world nothing gets done without sign-off from the top.

In the tightly controlled Arab Gulf states there is simply no such thing as "a rogue operation," as Saudi statements have described it. Meanwhile the glaring inconsistencies in the official Saudi explanations have only deepened suspicions of a state-sponsored cover-up.