Top Saudi Aide Saud al-Qahtani Fired Over Jamal Khashoggi Murder Still Wields Influence: Report


The Saudi public prosecutor is seeking death penalty for 5 suspects held over Jamal Khashoggi’s murder

London/Washington: 

A Saudi royal advisor fired over the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi continues to wield influence in Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s inner circle, according to Western, Arab and Saudi sources with links to the royal court.

Saud al-Qahtani was dismissed as a top aide to the de facto Saudi leader in late October, after overseeing the operation to kill Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul by giving orders via Skype, according to regional intelligence sources.

A senior Saudi official at the time called his removal “a political decision … based on dereliction of duty and participation in the sequence of events” that led to the murder. Weeks later, the U.S. Treasury sanctioned Qahtani for his role.

But six sources told Reuters that Qahtani remains active on behalf of the royal court. Two of them said he has kept in touch with the crown prince while three others said he has continued to instruct a small group of Saudi journalists on what to write about the kingdom’s policies.

As head of the royal court’s media centre until his dismissal, Qahtani ran an electronic media army tasked with protecting Saudi Arabia’s image, dictating the official line on issues from a dispute with Qatar to security and human rights.

The apparent impunity of Qahtani, seen as the crown prince’s right-hand man, risks undermining Saudi promises to hold those responsible to account, the sources say. The U.S. Senate last month backed a resolution blaming the crown prince, known as MbS, for the killing and insisted Riyadh fully investigate.

A Saudi official denied Qahtani was still playing a role inside the royal court, saying he has not conducted any work since his dismissal and that he remains under investigation and banned from travel.

The official referred Reuters to comments by the public prosecutor’s spokesman last year that 21 Saudis were taken into custody in relation to the Khashoggi case, 11 of whom have been indicted and referred to trial.

Reuters has been unable to reach Qahtani since he was fired.

“Free and in favour”

At the heart of the crown prince’s inner circle, Qahtani controlled access to MbS and would often speak on his behalf before he was dismissed, government insiders have said.

No official replacement has yet been announced.

Qahtani has continued to make repeated appearances at the royal court, although it was not clear in what capacity, five of the sources said. All of the sources spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive internal matters.

“He is still around, free and in favour. The crown prince is still holding on to him and doesn’t seem to be willing to sacrifice him,” one of the foreign sources said.

MbS himself has told visitors that Qahtani is still an advisor while assuring them that some responsibilities have been taken from him, according to a source familiar with the discussion between the crown prince and the visitors. The source did not elaborate.

Qahtani has also continued to dictate the royal court’s official line to columnists and top editors he considers able to influence public opinion, according to three of the sources, despite leaving a WhatsApp group he ran for that purpose.

Instead he has messaged individuals directly, instructing them on what or what not to write, these sources said.

Lying low

Qahtani’s involvement in Khashoggi’s murder, which intelligence sources have said included giving orders over Skype to the team inside the consulate, has fuelled speculation that MbS ordered the hit. Saudi officials have said the crown prince knew nothing of the killing.

The public prosecutor has said Qahtani briefed a team of Saudi operatives ahead of a mission to repatriate Khashoggi. Saudi officials have refused to disclose whether Qahtani was among those arrested.

The Saudi public prosecutor is seeking the death penalty for five of the 11 suspects detained over Khashoggi’s killing and a first court hearing was held this month. The suspects were not named and Reuters could not determine whether Qahtani was present at the hearing.

A source familiar with U.S. government agencies’ reporting and analyses said they believe Qahtani has been instructed to lie low for a while but think it is unlikely that MbS would ditch Qahtani.

Some Western allies had been concerned, even before Khashoggi’s killing, by the power Qahtani wielded within the royal court and have privately urged Riyadh to replace him with more seasoned advisers, according to Western diplomats in Riyadh.

Qahtani stopped using Twitter, a platform he regularly used to attack the kingdom’s critics, on Oct. 23 and changed the biography on his profile to “personal account”.

But Saudi activists living abroad still see his influence on Saudi media and in the Twitter attacks they say they face, accusing them of being disloyal to MbS or unpatriotic for not supporting his policies.

“Nothing has changed. It seems to have the same line, the same offensive language. His fingerprints are all over it still,” said Hala al-Dosari, a Saudi scholar and activist based in the United States.

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)





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Saudi Arabia Must Hold Jamal Khashoggi Killers Accountable: United States


Jamal Khashoggi was last seen entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2.

Doha, Qatar: 

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Sunday that he would ask Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to ensure the murderers of journalist Jamal Khashoggi are held “accountable”.

“We will continue to have a conversation with the crown prince and the Saudis about ensuring accountability,” Pompeo said in Doha after talks with Qatari government officials. 

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US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo holds a joint press conference with Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani.

His comments come ahead of a planned visit to the kingdom later on Sunday as part of a Middle East tour. 

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)





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US lawmakers organized mourning for Khashoggi after 100 days of his murder killing । पत्रकार खशोगी की हत्या के 100 दिन बाद अमेरिकी सांसदों ने की शोक सभा


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Saudi Ex-Royal Advisor, Suspect In Khashoggi Killing Drops Out Of Sight


Saudi officials say Mohammed bin Salman was unaware of the plot.

Riyadh: 

Authorities here will not say what became of Saud al-Qahtani, a powerful royal adviser whom Saudi prosecutors allege played a major role in the events that led to Jamal Khashoggi’s killing in Istanbul three months ago.

So in the seven weeks since the government said he was under investigation, only rumors have filled the silence. He was spotted recently in the coastal city of Jiddah, a resident said, and in the offices of the royal court here in the capital, according to a person who works with the government. Other accounts put Qahtani, once a top aide to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, in a remote corner of the kingdom, laying low.

The government’s treatment of Qahtani is being closely watched in Washington and other foreign capitals as a test of whether Saudi Arabia is sincere about prosecuting everyone found to be involved in Khashoggi’s killing, including senior officials. Even then, the many unanswered questions surrounding Qahtani’s role include whether he helped hatch the plot, as some Saudi officials allege, or is a fall guy served up by the government.

The CIA has concluded with medium to high confidence that the crown prince likely ordered the Khashoggi operation. Saudi officials say Mohammed was unaware of the plot, and some of them privately suggest it was a misguided plan by Qahtani to demonstrate his loyalty to his boss.

The Saudi government did not respond to requests for comment about whether he is free, detained or under indictment. Qahtani did not immediately respond to an email requesting comment on his whereabouts. A person close to the Saudi royal court said he believed Qahtani was under house arrest but could not be sure. On Thursday, Saudi Arabia’s general prosecutor said 11 defendants had appeared in court for the first time, but the prosecutor’s office did not release their names, or say if Qahtani was among them.

A US official said in a conference call with reporters that the Trump administration was “pleased” to see the beginning of the trial but added that the legal process had not yet “hit that threshold of credibility and accountability.”

The last detailed government comment on Qahtani was on November 15, when prosecutors said he was under investigation and had been forbidden from leaving the kingdom. That same day, the Trump administration said it had imposed sanctions on Qahtani, calling him “part of the planning and execution of the operation that led to the killing of Mr. Khashoggi.”

The Saudi government said Qahtani had been fired from his post as royal court adviser. But the lack of clarity on his status – and the various reported sightings of him – have raised questions about whether he continues to wield influence behind the scenes.

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Saudi officials have called Jamal Khashoggi’s death a tragic mistake

Some argue that Qahtani’s fate is beside the point. They say the more urgent question is whether Saudi Arabia has taken steps to repudiate the repressive policies that he has come to represent. According to human rights groups, Qahtani was intimately involved in the government’s arrests of critics and rivals to the crown prince, alleged torture of detainees and aggressive pursuit of the kingdom’s critics abroad.

Saudi officials have called Khashoggi’s death a tragic mistake but cast it as an isolated incident that does not represent the government’s policies.

A Cabinet shakeup last month that added a few seasoned ministers was seen as a tacit acknowledgement by the Saudi leadership that the crown prince was in need of more prudent counsel.

But it was a far cry from reforming the system, said Hala al-Dosari, a longtime Saudi human rights activist who lives in the United States. “The only thing they changed is the people,” she said. “They didn’t take any steps to revise the portfolios he handled since he was appointed, including the arrests and abuse of the women activists and other prisoners of conscience,” she added, referring to Qahtani’s role in the detention and alleged abuse of a group of women’s rights activists.

Saudi Arabia has promised a transparent investigation into the killing of Khashoggi, a contributing columnist for The Washington Post who vanished soon after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2. Saudi and Turkish authorities both said the culprits were members of a 15-person team of Saudi agents that was sent to Turkey and that Khashoggi’s body was dismembered after he was killed.

Attention focused on Qahtani almost as soon as the killing was revealed.

From his powerful post as a media adviser to the crown prince, he was a pugilistic defender of Mohammed’s policies on social media and the ringleader of an online effort to harass the kingdom’s critics. Qahtani had also played a central role in the Saudi effort to bring exiled critics, like Khashoggi, back to the country.

Saudi government officials have said that effort was focused on returning dissidents through negotiations – despite what happened to Khashoggi and accounts of forced repatriations.

After initially denying any role in Khashoggi’s disappearance, the Saudi government acknowledged in mid-October that he had been killed by Saudi agents and said Qahtani and several other officials had been fired, for unspecified reasons.

The government added more detail weeks later, when prosecutors announced that their investigation had found the killing was the result of a botched attempt to bring Khashoggi home alive. Prosecutors said that members of the Saudi team in Istanbul had disobeyed their orders and decided to kill the journalist if he did not accompany them willingly.

Qahtani, who knew Khashoggi, met with the Saudi team before they left for Turkey “to share with them information relevant to the mission based on his specialization in media,” according to a government summary of the prosecutors’ investigation that referred to Qahtani only as “the adviser.”

Qahtani “expressed his belief that the victim was co-opted by organizations and states hostile to the Kingdom and that the victim’s presence outside of Saudi Arabia represents a threat to national security,” the summary said, referring to Khashoggi.

Some Saudi officials, shaken by the global backlash, have privately invoked Qahtani’s name as a way of assigning blame for decisions that have embarrassed the crown prince, including the brief detention last year of Lebanon’s prime minister while in Saudi Arabia.

Qahtani had served the royal court for more than a decade, but his reputation as a nationalist, hawkish enforcer coincided with the Crown Prince Mohammed’s rise to power, analysts said.

He embraced the role with zeal. People familiar with the detention conditions of Saudi women’s rights activists who were imprisoned last year have in recent weeks said that Qahtani personally supervised the torture of at least two of the women.

One of them, Loujain al-Hathloul, was abused by six security officers in a secret detention facility several months ago. As they forcibly kissed her while subjecting her to electrical shocks, Qahtani sat in the room watching his men and taunting her, according to two people who were briefed on her detention.

In the past few weeks, some Saudi citizens have vocally defended Qahtani on social media. One person posted a message on Twitter saying a “rumor campaign” had targeted Qahtani and Ahmed al-Assiri, a former senior intelligence official who prosecutors have also named in the plot that killed Khashoggi.

Fahad al-Ahmadi, a Saudi journalist with 272,000 followers, retweeted the message, and added: “No one doubts their loyalty to the homeland.”

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)





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Saudi Trial In Khashoggi Murder Case “Not Sufficient”: UN Rights Office


Saudi Arabia claims that Jamal Khashoggi died in a physical altercation inside its consulate in Istanbul.

GENEVA: 

The United Nations human rights office said on Friday it could not assess the fairness of a trial taking place in Saudi Arabia related to the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, but that in any case it was “not sufficient”.

Spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani, asked about reports that a Saudi prosecutor had sought the death sentence for five suspects linked to the Oct. 2 killing, reiterated the office’s call for an independent investigation “with international involvement”.

The U.N. rights office always opposed the death penalty, she added.

 

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)





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Mike Pompeo To Visit Middle East, Seek Update On Khashoggi Murder Probe


Saudi Arabia claims that Jamal Khashoggi died in a physical altercation inside its consulate in Istanbul.

Washington: 

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will seek an update to Saudi Arabia’s investigation into the October killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi when he visits Riyadh during a trip to the Middle East next week, the State Department said on Friday.

Khashoggi, a U.S.-based Washington Post journalist from Saudi Arabia who had become a critic of the kingdom’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was last seen entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2.

U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded the crown prince ordered an operation to kill Khashoggi, whose body was dismembered and removed from the building to a location still publicly unknown. Top Turkish officials have also tied his death to the highest levels of Saudi leadership.

Saudi officials have denied accusations that the prince ordered the murder.

A Saudi court on Thursday held its first hearing on Khashoggi’s case in which Saudi Arabian prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for five of the 11 suspects in the case. The United Nations human rights office on Friday called the trial “not sufficient.”

Pompeo will also visit Jordan, Egypt, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Oman and Kuwait as part of his Jan. 8 to Jan. 15 trip, the State Department said in a statement.

As part of his talks with Middle Eastern leaders, Pompeo will also discuss the war in Yemen as well as Iran, Syria and other regional issues, the department said.

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)





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Amid Jamal Khashoggi Murder, Saudi Arabia Says Government Reshuffle Was Routine


Some allies of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, 33, were also promoted (File Photo)

Dubai: 

The Saudi king’s government reshuffle was expected because the cabinet must be replaced and reappointed every four years, the government said on Friday, giving a technocratic explanation to a move seen by critics as an attempt at crisis management.

The assertion was issued by the government communications office after the king elevated veteran government figures to key cabinet positions on Thursday, including installing a former finance minister to head the foreign ministry.

The position of national security adviser went to a Harvard-educated son of Saudi Arabia’s first intelligence chief who has also long been a fixture in the royal court.

Most other ministers remained in their roles and some allies of King Salman’s son and heir, Crown Prince Mohammed, 33, were also promoted.

Analysts said the moves were aimed at reversing the damage done to the image of the government by the murder of U.S.-based Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October.

A statement by the communications office cited the Saudi official as saying the reshuffle reflected routine technocratic considerations and came at the end of the cabinet’s four-year term, as required by law.

“The reshuffle is designed to ensure that the Cabinet has the best combination of the experience and know-how to meet the needs of the Kingdom over the coming four years and strengthen our relations with friendly countries around the world,” the official was cited as saying in the statement.

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)





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Cheers For Khashoggi, US Newsroom Shooting At Times Square New Year Party


Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi columnist and US resident, was killed inside a Saudi Arabian consulate in Turkey

New York: 

Reporters will be the guests of honor at the New Year’s Eve party in New York’s Times Square on Monday, in what organizers said was a celebration of press freedom after an unusually deadly year for journalists at US news outlets.

Two attacks in particular weighed on organizers as they discussed in autumn whom to give the honor of initiating the ceremonial ball drop just before midnight, according to Tim Tompkins, president of the Times Square Alliance.

One was the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi columnist for the Washington Post and US resident, inside a Saudi Arabian consulate in Turkey. The other was the mass shooting in June in the newsroom of The Capital, a newspaper in Annapolis, Maryland, in which five employees were killed.

“Throughout the year it’s been a big issue,” Tompkins said in an interview. “Times Square itself is the ultimate agora and public space,” noting that the area was named after the New York Times, and that it was a Times publisher, Adolf Ochs, who began the tradition of the ball drop in 1907.

Joel Simon, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, said the Times Square Alliance approached his group because of “the perception that the journalism and journalists in particular are under threat and their role is being questioned.”

Simon, who said he usually spends New Year’s Eve playing Scrabble with his wife in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, will be in the spotlight at the Times Square festivities, joining Mayor Bill de Blasio to launch the ball drop a minute before midnight.

Simon will be joined onstage by an array of journalists from US and international news outlets. The names were still being finalized on Friday, the Times Square Alliance said.

The button-pressing honor has in previous years gone to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, an Iraq War veteran, US Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor and the singer Lady Gaga.

The Times Square Alliance contacted Simon in November, Simon said, several weeks before Time magazine would devote their annual “Person of the Year” issue to several prominent journalists who have faced attacks and hostility.

Among those journalists were Khashoggi, and Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, two Reuters reporters imprisoned by Myanmar for investigating how the country’s security forces killed members of the country’s Muslim Rohingya minority.

US President Donald Trump has become a vociferous critic of parts of the press, routinely chiding reporters and outlets he views as publishing “fake news,” calling them “the enemy of the people.”

Simon said this was in the background of his discussions with the Times Square Alliance.

“Unavoidably, Trump was the subtext, but not front and center,” he said. “We wanted to have a unifying message.”

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)





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Saudi Foreign Minister Says Kingdom Not In Crisis Amid Khashoggi Murder Outrage


We are going through a transformation, not a crisis, Saudi foreign minister Ibrahim al-Assaf said.

Riyadh: 

Saudi Arabia’s new foreign minister voiced defiance Friday in the face of international outrage over critic Jamal Khashoggi’s murder, rejecting the kingdom was in crisis and his predecessor was demoted.

“The issue of Jamal Khashoggi… really saddened us, all of us,” Ibrahim al-Assaf told AFP, a day after he was appointed foreign minister in a government reshuffle.

“But all in all, we are not going through a crisis, we are going through a transformation,” he added, referring to social and economic reforms spearheaded by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The prince, heir to the Saudi throne, has faced intense international scrutiny over the October 2 murder of journalist Khashoggi in the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate — which critics say has left the oil-rich Gulf nation diplomatically weakened.

Assaf, a former finance minister who was detained last year in what Riyadh said was an anti-corruption sweep, replaced Adel al-Jubeir as foreign minister in the sweeping government shake-up ordered by King Salman.

Jubeir, who sought to defend the tainted government internationally after Khashoggi’s murder, was appointed minister of state for foreign affairs, which was widely seen as a demotion.

“This is far from the truth,” Assaf said.

“Adel represented Saudi Arabia and will continue to represent Saudi Arabia… around the world. We complement each other.”

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)





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Amid Outrage Over Khashoggi Murder, Saudi King Reshuffles Cabinet


King Salman of Saudi Arabia ordered a major government reshuffle Thursday. (File)

Riyadh: 

King Salman of Saudi Arabia ordered a major government reshuffle Thursday, replacing the ministers of foreign affairs and information, a royal decree said.

The shake up comes as the kingdom grapples with international outrage over the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a scandal that has tipped Riyadh into one of its worst international crises.

Ibrahim al-Assaf, a former finance minister, will replace Adel al-Jubeir as foreign minister, the decree said.

Jubeir was demoted to minister of state for foreign affairs, it added.

Turki al-Shabanah was appointed as the new minister of information, replacing Awwad al-Awwad — who was named as an advisor to the royal court.

Turki al-Sheikh, a close aide to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was removed as the head of the kingdom’s sports commission and named entertainment authority chief.

The fallout over Khashoggi’s murder is widely seen as the kingdom’s worst diplomatic crisis since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, in which most of the hijackers were identified as Saudi nationals.

The critic’s killing has tainted the image of 33-year-old Prince Mohammed — the de facto ruler and heir apparent — even though the kingdom strongly denies he was involved.

But so far it has not threatened to unseat the prince, who has effectively neutered his political rivals and tightened his grip on military and security agencies.

After the reshuffle, Prince Mohammed is set to maintain his political and security posts, including that of defence minster.

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)





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