JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia — Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman raised the killing of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in his conversation with US President Joe Biden Friday, an official familiar with the matter told The Times of Israel.
The official characterized bin Salman’s comment as a retort to Biden after the latter opened their meeting by confronting him about the murder of Washington Post reporter Jamal Khashoggi.
The crown prince highlighted the fact that Abu Akleh was a US citizen and asked Biden what he was doing to ensure justice after her killing during clashes between Israeli troops and Palestinian gunmen in Jenin on May 11, the official said Saturday, confirming an Al Arabiya report.
The official said Abu Akleh was one of several examples, along with the torture of prisoners by US troops in Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison, that the crown prince raised in an attempt to call out the ostensible hypocrisy in Biden’s position on human rights issues in Saudi Arabia.
A second source — a senior US official — acknowledged that the two leaders’ discussion at the beginning of the meeting was “frosty,” but said they then moved on and the meeting was productive.
Biden said after the meeting that he “made it clear what I thought of [the Khashoggi killing] at the time and what I think of it now.”
A CIA report presented to Biden found that the crown prince had ordered the hit on Khashoggi, in which Saudi operatives killed the journalist and dismembered his body after he entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018.
Saudi Arabia has tried several officials it said ordered the hit and sentenced eight people to prison terms. Bin Salman has called the incident regrettable but insisted he had no role in Khashoggi’s death, according to US and Saudi officials.
For its part, the Biden administration has come under fire from Abu Akleh’s family and pro-Palestinian activists for announcing earlier this month that the prominent Al Jazeera reporter was not intentionally killed by Israel, even though it said an IDF soldier was likely responsible for shooting her. The State Department said the bullet was too damaged to make a more conclusive determination.
The Palestinian Authority has accused Israel of deliberately killing Abu Akleh. Israel has rejected this as a blatant lie, and says it is still investigating her death.
The Abu Akleh family called the statement “treasonous” and then demanded a meeting with Biden when he was in Israel earlier this week. While the US said that scheduling didn’t allow for that, Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with the slain reporter’s relatives shortly before arriving in Israel with the president and invited them to come to Washington to “engage directly” with the administration.
Speaking to The Times of Israel on the sidelines of the GCC+3 summit in Jeddah, White House National Security Council Strategic Communications Coordinator John Kirby declined to say on the record whether MBS raised Abu Akleh’s killing but stressed that the US continues to urge Israel to ensure accountability and conclude its probe into the incident as soon as possible.
AFP contributed to this report