Riyadh(ANN)-In his first public remarks on the matter, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has attempted to portray himself as not having been involved in the murder of Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi, who is unequivocally believed to have been killed on Mohammed’s direct order.
According to a PBS documentary to be broadcast next week, the 34-year-old Saudi crown prince, also known as MBS, has claimed that the government agents — including one of his bodyguards — sent by private government jets to kill Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October last year acted on their own.
“We have 20 million people. We have three million government employees,” PBS’ Martin Smith quotes Mohammed in the preview of the documentary as having told him off-the-camera.
“And they can take one of your planes?” Smith then asked MBS, referring to the 15-person team who flew in and out of Istanbul on the kill mission.
“I have officials, ministers to follow things, and they’re responsible, they have the authority to do that,” MBS responded, according to Smith.
Khashoggi, a former advocate of the Saudi royal court who later became a critic of bin Salman, was killed and his body was dismembered by a Saudi hit squad after being lured into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2, 2018.
Saudi Arabia initially denied that Khashoggi had been murdered, saying he left the consulate. Later, and under mounting international pressure that came as new evidence emerged, Riyadh said the journalist had been murdered by “rogue” elements.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said, however, that “we know the order to kill Khashoggi came from the highest levels of the Saudi government.” While President Erdogan has stopped short of naming Mohammed, he has said the order did not come from Saudi King Salman.
The Washington Post, for which Khashoggi was a columnist, reported in November last year that the CIA had concluded that Mohammed ordered his killing. Furthermore, an investigative team led by the United Nations (UN) also said that it believed MBS was the prime suspect in the state-sponsored murder. Washington has refused to formally implicate Mohammed, however.
In the account provided by Smith, Mohammed was denying he is able to oversee everything that happens under his rule even though the Saudi royal court is known for excessive control. No opposition to the monarchy finds voice inside of Saudi Arabia. And all perceived policy successes are officially attributed either to King Salman or Mohammed — and often to the latter. The crown prince conducts much of the policy-making and the overseas trips, and is believed to be the singular, de facto leader of the country.
But, while denying an ability to keep an eye on everything, Mohammed also said — contradictorily — that he bore responsibility for Khashoggi’s murder “because it happened under my watch.”
“I get all the responsibility, because it happened under my watch,” Mohammed further told Smith.
Until now, and despite the international attention that the state-sponsored murder has continuously received, Mohammed had refused to speak about his role in the killing.
With all evidence pointing to him for direct involvement, Mohammed’s acceptance of general responsibility for the murder is seen as an attempt — even if belated — at looking like a political leader answerable on important matters.