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U.N. Report Implicates Saudi Crown Prince In Killing Of Jamal Khashoggi

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is seen in Algiers on Dec. 2, 2018 — exactly two months after Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi entered the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul and was never heard from again.
Billal Bensalem
NurPhoto via Getty Images
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is seen in Algiers on Dec. 2, 2018 — exactly two months after Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi entered the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul and was never heard from again.

Editor's note: This story contains graphic details of the actions leading up to Jamal Khashoggi's death.

A special U.N. investigator says Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman should be investigated in the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi because there is "credible evidence" that he and other senior officials in the kingdom were responsible.

Agnes Callamard, the special rapporteur for the U.N.'s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, conducted a five-month investigation into Khashoggi's death last fall at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. Her resulting report, released Wednesday, found that "Khashoggi has been the victim of a deliberate, premeditated execution, an extrajudicial killing for which the state of Saudi Arabia is responsible under international human rights law."

Callamard's report says the mission to "execute Khashoggi" required significant coordination, resources and finances. It adds that every expert consulted for the report found it "inconceivable that an operation of this scale could be implemented without the Crown Prince being aware, at a minimum, that some sort of mission of a criminal nature, directed at Mr. Khashoggi, was being launched."

Western intelligence agencies, including in the U.S., have already assessed that the crown prince was involved in Khashoggi's death, but this report is from an independent investigator. The crown prince, who is also known as MBS, has repeatedly denied any involvement.

The kingdom's minister of state for foreign affairs, Adel al-Jubeir, tweeted that there is "nothing new" in the findings. "The report contains clear contradictions and baseless allegations, which challenges its credibility," Jubeir said.

The report painstakingly lays out the circumstances surrounding Khashoggi's killing, including names and the movements of the 15-member hit team that was dispatched from Saudi Arabia to Istanbul. Callamard was given access by Turkish intelligence to some recordings of conversations in the Saudi Consulate. She and her Arabic translator were allowed to listen to about 45 minutes of audio, though she believes Turkish intelligence has about seven hours of recordings. Callamard and her translator were not given transcripts; they had to make notes.

The conversations on the recordings are haunting. Shortly before Khashoggi arrives at the consulate on Oct. 2, 2018, two members of the hit team, Maher Abdulaziz Mutreb, an intelligence officer, and Salah Mohammed Tubaigy, a forensic doctor, discuss how to dispose of the body. The report states:

"At 13:02, inside the Consulate, Mr. Mutreb and Dr. Tubaigy had a conversation just minutes before Mr. Khashoggi entered. Mr. Mutreb asked whether it will 'be possible to put the trunk in a bag?'

"Dr. Tubaigy replied 'No. Too heavy.' He expressed hope that it would 'be easy. Joints will be separated. It is not a problem. The body is heavy. First time I cut on the ground. If we take plastic bags and cut it into pieces, it will be finished. We will wrap each of them.' 'Leather bags.' There was a reference to cutting skin. Dr. Tubaigny also expressed concerns: 'My direct manager is not aware of what I am doing. There is nobody to protect me.'

"At the end of the conversation, Mr. Mutreb asked whether 'the sacrificial animal' has arrived. At 13:13, a voice said 'he has arrived.' In these recordings heard by the Special Rapporteur, Mr. Khashoggi's name was not mentioned."

The recordings also detail the final moments of Khashoggi's life, according to the report:

"In the recordings, sounds of a struggle can be heard during which the following statements could also be heard: 'Did he sleep?' 'He raises his head.' 'Keep pushing.' 'Push here; don't remove your hand; push it.' " 

Callamard says assessments of the recordings by intelligence officers in Turkey and other countries suggest that Khashoggi could have been injected with a sedative and then suffocated using a plastic bag.

It added:

"Sounds of movement and heavy panting could be heard in the remainder of the recordings. The sound of plastic sheets (wrapping) could also be heard. Turkish Intelligence concluded that these came after Mr. Khashoggi's death while the Saudi officials were dismembering his body. The Turkish Intelligence assessment identified the sound of a saw at 13:39. The Special Rapporteur and her delegation could not make out the sources of the sounds they heard."

Eleven suspects in Khashoggi's killing are on trial in Saudi Arabia; five people face the death penalty. In her report, Callamard calls for the kingdom to suspend the trial, saying it doesn't meet international standards.

Callamard lists several recommendations at the end of her report, including urging the FBI to conduct an investigation into Khashoggi's killing if it hasn't already done so. She also recommends an international investigation.

That investigation, she tells NPR, should focus on "individual criminal liabilities."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Jackie Northam is NPR's International Affairs Correspondent. She is a veteran journalist who has spent three decades reporting on conflict, geopolitics, and life across the globe - from the mountains of Afghanistan and the desert sands of Saudi Arabia, to the gritty prison camp at Guantanamo Bay and the pristine beauty of the Arctic.