US announces sanctions after implicating Saudi crown prince in journalist's murder

  • Video report from ITV News correspondent Robert Moore

The US has announced sanctions and visa bans targeting Saudi Arabia after unveiling that officials believe a Saudi crown prince likely approved the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Although the US implicated Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the murder, they have not placed any sanctions on him.

The declassified US intelligence report, released on Friday, could escalate pressure on the Biden administration to hold the kingdom accountable for a murder that sparked international outrage.

The main conclusion of the report was not unexpected - intelligence officials were said to have reached it soon after the brutal killing of Jamal Khashoggi in October 2018.

Mohammed bin Salman on a visit to the UK Credit: AP

Khashoggi was a critic of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s authoritarian consolidation of power.

However, since the finding had not been officially released until now, the public assignment of responsibility amounted to an extraordinary condemnation of the 35-year-old crown prince.

Following the release of the report, the US government said it will sanction Ahmad Hassan Mohammed al Asiri, Saudi Arabia’s former Deputy Head of General Intelligence Presidency and Saudi Arabia’s Rapid Intervention Force in connection with Khashoggi's killing.

The US Treasury department said several of those sent to intercept Khashoggi before he was killed were part of Saudi Arabia’s Rapid Intervention Force, also known as the “Tiger Squad” or Firqat el-Nemr. “Those involved in the abhorrent killing of Jamal Khashoggi must be held accountable,“ said treasury secretary Janet L. Yellen. "The United States stands united with journalists and political dissidents in opposing threats of violence and intimidation. We will continue to defend the freedom of expression, which is the bedrock of a free society.”

The government also announced it will impose visa restrictions on 76 Saudi individuals believed to have been engaged in threatening dissidents overseas, including but not limited to the Khashoggi killing.

  • Presenter Rageh Omaar asks reporter Robert Moore how Saudi Arabia has reacted to the report and sanctions

The visa restrictions fall under a new "Khashoggi ban". The policy allows the US to punish those acting on behalf of a foreign government who are believed to have been "directly engaged in serious, extraterritorial counter-dissident activities".

The report's findings are likely to set the tone for the new administration’s relationship with a Saudi Arabia - a country President Joe Biden has criticised but which the White House also regards in some contexts as a strategic partner.

The report was released one day after a later-than-usual courtesy call from Biden to Saudi King Salman. A White House summary of the talk didn't mention the killing and said instead that the men had discussed the countries’ long-established partnership.

CCTV footage shows Jamal Khashoggi entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on 2 October

Similarly, the kingdom’s state-run Saudi Press Agency did not mention the murder in its write-up of the conversation. Rather, it focused on Middle Eastern issues like Iran and the ongoing war in Yemen.

In 2018, Khashoggi visited the Saudi consulate in Turkey in order to pick up documents needed for his wedding. Inside the building, he died at the hands of over a dozen Saudi security and intelligence officials and others who turned up before Khashoggi arrived.

In the hours leading up to the killing, CCTV cameras captured footage of Khashoggi and his suspected killers in Istanbul.

A Turkish bug planted at the consulate reportedly captured the sound of a forensic saw dismembering Khashoggi’s body within an hour of his arrival. The whereabouts of his remains are still unknown.

In 2019, the prince said he took “full responsibility” for the killing since it happened on his watch. He denied ordering the murder, however.

Saudi officials have said Khashoggi’s killing was the work of rogue Saudi security and intelligence officials. Last year, Saudi Arabian courts announced they had sentenced eight unidentified Saudi nationals to prison for Khashoggi’s killing.