- Saudi critic and journalist Jamal Khashoggi has been missing for 15 days, but Saudi Arabia has yet to offer a credible explanation.
- Saudi Arabia initially denied knowledge of Khashoggi’s whereabouts but now reportedly plans to admit to his murder.
- Saudi officials plan to scapegoat a two-star general and say he botched a plan to interrogate Khashoggi and accidentally killed him, The Daily Beast reported.
- A separate report from The New York Times, published on Thursday, suggested the Saudis plan to blame a top intelligence official who has close ties to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
- The Times identified him as Gen. Ahmed al-Assiri, who was elevated to intelligence by the crown prince just last year.
- READ MORE: Here’s everything we know about the troubling disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi
Saudi Arabia reportedly plans to admit that missing journalist Jamal Khashoggi was murdered by Saudi agents, but will put the blame on a rogue general acting beyond his authority.
The Daily Beast on Tuesday reported that Saudi officials plan to pin Khashoggi’s death on an unnamed Saudi two-star general, citing two anonymous sources familiar with the matter.
The report said the general is “new to intelligence work,” seemingly setting up his inexperience as part of the reason for killing Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist who often criticised the Saudi government.
A separate report from The New York Times, published on Thursday, suggested the Saudis are preparing to blame a top intelligence official who has close ties to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The Times identified him as Gen. Ahmed al-Assiri, who was elevated to intelligence just last year.
Assiri was promoted to Saudi intelligence by the crown prince, after previously serving as the spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition waging war in Yemen. With that said, the crown prince may take some of the blame for elevating Assiri if the Saudis end up blaming him for Khashoggi’s fate.
The Saudis reportedly plan to claim the crown prince authorised the general to capture and interrogate Khashoggi, but will say he crossed the line by killing the journalist.
This all comes as Turkish officials reportedly offered gruesome details to support their conclusion that Khashoggi was killed minutes after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2.
According to Turkey’s pro-government Daily Sabah newspaper, Al Jazeera Arabic – a TV channel funded by Saudi rival Qatar – reported on Tuesday that Khashoggi was beaten, drugged, and eventually killed in the Saudi consul general’s office, citing unnamed Turkish investigators.
A Saudi autopsy expert, Salah Mohammed al-Tubaigy, advised other Saudis to listen to music while he dismembered Khashoggi’s body in the consulate, Al Jazeera reported, according to Sabah.
Riyadh’s reported blame game
According to The Daily Beast, Saudi officials plan to say the unnamed general secured approval from Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to interrogate Khashoggi.
The report said he was given authority to extract information about Khashoggi’s alleged ties to the Muslim Brotherhood – an Islamist political faction – and financial ties to Saudi rival Qatar.
According to Riyadh’s potential narrative, the general improvised a plan to send Khashoggi from Turkey to Saudi Arabia, but botched it and killed him instead, The Daily Beast reported.
The Daily Beast’s report said Saudi officials would claim he then lied to his superiors about what happened.
This explanation could allow Saudi officials – including Prince Mohammed – to stick to their initial position of denying any knowledge of Khashoggi’s whereabouts shortly after he was reported missing.
The narrative falls in line with recent reports
The narrative about the two-star general was published after CNN reported on Monday that Saudi Arabia was preparing a report on Khashoggi’s disappearance, in which the kingdom would claim that Khashoggi was killed as a result of a botched interrogation that was conducted without clearance or transparency.
That report has not yet been released.
The story outlined by The Daily Beast also falls in line with US intelligence intercepts, reported by The Washington Post, that Prince Mohammed had wanted to lure Khashoggi from his home in Virginia to Saudi Arabia.
US President Donald Trump on Monday also appeared to exonerate the Saudi leadership from responsibility for Khashoggi’s whereabouts, suggesting that “rogue killers” could instead be responsible for the journalist’s disappearance.
‘Ludicrous in the extreme’
Foreign-policy experts, however, have poured cold water on the narrative.
Bruce Riedel, a former CIA official now at the Brookings Institution, told The Daily Beast: “It’s ludicrous in the extreme. Saudi Arabia doesn’t work that way. They don’t freelance operations.”
Barbara Bodine, a retired US ambassador to Yemen, also told the news site: “If this is a rogue operation, the rogue is MBS,” using Prince Mohammed’s initials.
The Khashoggi crisis is dividing Trump and Congress
Trump has seemed hesitant to blame the Saudi leadership for Khashoggi’s disappearance and said last week that halting billions of dollars’ worth of arms sales to Saudi Arabia over Khashoggi would “be punishing ourselves.“
Trump also emphasised that Khashoggi was “not a US citizen.” (Khashoggi held a green card.)
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is visiting Saudi Arabia and Turkey this week to hear the two countries’ sides of the story.
Trump tweeted on Tuesday that Prince Mohammed, with Pompeo by his side, “totally denied any knowledge of what took place in their Turkish Consulate.”
…during the call, and told me that he has already started, and will rapidly expand, a full and complete investigation into this matter. Answers will be forthcoming shortly.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 16, 2018
Many foreign-policy experts told Business Insider last week that the Khashoggi case could create tension between Trump and the GOP foreign-policy establishment in Congress.
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