United States Vice President Mike Pence vowed Saturday the US would hold the murderers of Jamal Khashoggi to account, following media reports that the CIA had concluded Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was behind the journalist’s killing.
“The United States is determined to hold all of those accountable who are responsible for that murder,” Pence said on the sidelines of an APEC summit in Papua New Guinea.
Pence described the Saudi journalist’s killing as an “atrocity” and an “affront to a free and independent press,” but declined to comment on classified information.
The vice president’s comments come after reports that the CIA believed the powerful bin Salman was involved in the plot to murder the journalist.
If confirmed, the US assessment would directly contradict the conclusions of a Saudi prosecutor a day earlier, which exonerated the prince of involvement in the brutal murder.
And it would threaten to further fray relations between Washington and key ally Riyadh, which has sought to end discussion of the murder and rejected calls for an international investigation.
“We are going to follow the facts,” said Pence.
But he also added the US wanted to find a way of preserving a “strong and historic partnership” with Saudi Arabia.
Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was murdered on October 2 in his country’s consulate in Istanbul.
Khashoggi, a Washington Post contributor and critic of bin Salman, was drugged and dismembered and his remains were then removed from the consulate, the Saudi public prosecutor’s office said on Thursday.
A total of 21 people, all Saudi citizens, are in custody in connection with Khashoggi’s killing. Eleven have been indicted while investigations continue into the others.
The prosecutor’s office said it was seeking the death penalty against five accused who “are charged with ordering and committing the crime.”
On October 20, Riyadh announced the sacking of five Saudi officials — two of them part of bin Salman’s inner circle — and the detention of 18 suspects, whose names were not released.
The Washington Post reported on Friday that the US Central Intelligence Agency had concluded that bin Salman, the “de facto ruler” of the kingdom, was behind the killing of Khashoggi.
However, the New York Times said that while telephone intercepts showed bin Salman was working to lure Khashoggi to Saudi Arabia, he had not said in the calls that he wanted the journalist killed.
Saudi prosecutor’s office spokesman Shaalan al-Shaalan said on Thursday that the prince had “no knowledge” of Khashoggi’s murder.