WASHINGTON — Saudi Arabia’s crown prince and de facto ruler ordered an operation targeting journalist and US resident Jamal Khashoggi, who has been missing for more than a week, The Washington Post reported Wednesday citing US intelligence intercepts.
Khashoggi — a US resident and one of the more outspoken critics of the regime of King Salman and his son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman — disappeared after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2, and Turkish officials suspect he was murdered.
The Post, a newspaper to which Khashoggi contributed, cited unnamed US officials as saying that Saudi officials had been heard discussing a plan to lure Khashoggi from the US state of Virginia, where he resided, and detain him.
The paper quoted several of Khashoggi’s friends as saying that senior Saudi officials had approached him offering protection, or even a high-level government job, if he returned home — but that Khashoggi was skeptical of the offers.
State Department deputy spokesman Robert Palladino earlier insisted that the United States had no forewarning of any concrete threat to Khashoggi.
“Although I can’t go into intelligence matters, I can definitively say that we had no knowledge in advance of Mr Khashoggi’s disappearance,” Palladino told reporters.
The case has sparked outrage from human rights and journalism groups and threatens to harm ties between Saudi Arabia and the United States, which has demanded answers from the kingdom over the disappearance.
US President Donald Trump on Wednesday demanded Saudi Arabia provide answers over the disappearance of Khashoggi.
The Trump administration sharply upped the pressure, reversing an initially low-key response after Washington Post contributor Khashoggi vanished on October 2.
Trump said he had talked “more than once” and “at the highest levels” to partners in Saudi Arabia, which is one of Washington’s closest allies and a key market for the US weapons industry.
“We’re demanding everything,” Trump told reporters. “We cannot let this happen, to reporters, to anybody.”
“We are very disappointed to see what’s going on. We don’t like it and we’re going to get to the bottom of it,” he added.
Twenty-two senators wrote to Trump invoking the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, which requires the president to open an investigation and determine whether sanctions should be imposed.
The act is used in cases of suspected “extrajudicial killing, torture, or other gross violation of internationally recognized human rights against an individual exercising freedom of expression,” the senators said.
Trump spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said National Security Advisor John Bolton, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Trump’s close aide and son-in-law Jared Kushner had all spoken to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman over the past two days.