The key intelligence official Saudi Arabia blames for Khashoggi’s murder reportedly asked about killing Iranians last year

People hold posters of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi during a protest organised by members of the Turkish-Arabic Media Association at the entrance to Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. Chris McGrath/Getty Images
  • Saudi Arabia’s top intelligence officials reportedly asked a group of businessmen if they could facilitate them using private military contractors to kill key Iranian officials.
  • The businessmen pitched a $US2 billion plan to top Saudi intelligence agents to use private intelligence operatives to erode the Iranian economy last year, but the Saudis wanted more, The New York Times reported.
  • One of the Saudi agents who asked about the assassinations was Maj. Gen. Ahmed al-Assiri, who has been blamed for the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
  • The alleged meeting came as Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed started consolidating his power both inside and outside the kingdom.

The Saudi intelligence official, whom Saudi Arabia has blamed for the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, asked businessmen if they could use private contractors to kill off the kingdom’s Iranian enemies, The New York Times reported on Sunday, citing three unnamed people familiar with the conversations.

According to the newspaper, Maj. Gen. Ahmed al-Assiri asked the businessmen at a meeting in Riyadh in March 2017 if private intelligence operators could help assassinate figures like Qassim Suleimani, the leader of the Quds special force of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.

The meeting was originally called so that the businessmen could pitch a $US2 billion plan to use private contractors to try to destroy the Iranian economy, The Times said. It reportedly included revealing the Quds Force’s hidden global assets and creating fake social media posts to destabilize Iranian domestic politics.

But the Saudis reportedly wanted to go a step further, and asked the businessmen if the contractors also “conducted kinetics” – also known as lethal operations – saying that they were interested in killing senior Iranian officers.

The businessmen ultimately rejected the plan to participate in any assassinations, The Times said.

Saudi military spokesman Ahmed Al-Assiri
Maj. Gen. Ahmed al-Assiri was the spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen and was promoted to Saudi intelligence last year. Screenshot/BBC

Assiri was promoted to Saudi intelligence by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman last year after serving as the spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition waging war in Yemen.

According to The Times, Saudi Arabia blamed him for the death of Jamal Khashoggi, a critical Saudi journalist who died inside the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul last month.

Read more:

Here’s everything we know about the troubling disappearance and death of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi

Khashoggi mbs
Maj. Gen. Ahmed Al-Assiri, the general who asked about the Iranian assassinations, was blamed for the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Associated Press/Virginia Mayo; Nicolas Asfouri – Pool/Getty

Saudi Arabia’s crackdown

The alleged meeting came as Crown Prince Mohammed was consolidating his power both inside and outside the kingdom.

Since his ascension to the crown princedom, he has waged a hardline campaign against his critics as part of an internal power grab. Last year he detained more than 200 government ministers, wealthy businessmen, and Saudi princes in the luxury Ritz Carlton hotel in Riyadh as part of an anticorruption sweep.

Earlier this year researchers in Toronto also reported that Saudi agents had been using Israeli spyware to bug the kingdom’s dissidents abroad.

Read more:

Saudi agents are reportedly secretly installing spyware onto people’s phones to track critics abroad

The Trump connection

George Nader, a Lebanese-American businessman reportedly called the meeting, and Joel Zamel, an Israeli who founded the social media manipulation company Psy-Group reportedly attended.

Separately, Special Counsel Robert Mueller is also probing Nader and Zamel’s activities as part of his investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia.

Donald Trump Jr. attended a meeting with Nader and Zamel three months before the 2016 presidential election in Trump Tower, during which Nader said Saudi and UAE princes wanted to help Trump win the election, and Zamel proposed that his company help wage a social media manipulation campaign for the Trump campaign, The Times reported earlier this year.

Nader is currently cooperating with Mueller in the Russia probe.

Read The New York Times’ full story here.