Saudi Arabian operatives allegedly murdered Jamal Khashoggi in Saudi’s consulate in Istanbul last year, sparking an angry response from many lawmakers in the US.
However, in a potentially embarrassing turn, some of the agents were US-trained, according to a report in The Washington Post on Saturday.
The Post reporter said US and Saudi sources have told him that the training occurred “as part of ongoing liaison” between the US and Saudi Arabia, but that it has been halted since the killing.
The leader of the team that killed Khashoggi was allegedly Maher Mutreb, a colonel in the Saudi intelligence service who comes from a “wealthy and respected Saudi family”.
Mutreb allegedly received training in the US and then developed a “friendly” relationship with Khashoggi while they were both working in London.
The report said other members of the 15-person team allegedly also had US training, without giving details.
The scandal allegedly prompted the US to suspend several security programmes, including wide-reaching efforts to modernise Riyadh’s intelligence agencies.
The US State Department and Congress also placed obstacles for US contractors trying to sell technology to the oil-rich kingdom, according to the report.
US officials are worried that the powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has “become a Saudi version of Saddam Hussein, an authoritarian moderniser”, the report added.
The report also claims to reveal new details on Khashoggi’s final minutes inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul and the team behind the killing.
It points to the prince’s former aide, Saud al-Qahtani, who until recently coordinated Riyadh’s covert operations, as the mastermind.
Turkish prosecutors asked for an arrest warrant on Qahtani in December due to a “strong suspicion” that he was among those who planned the murder, but Saudi Arabia would not extradite him.
Khashoggi, a Saudi national, was recorded entering the Istanbul consulate on Oct 2 to complete paperwork needed for his wedding plans.
His final moments were apparently captured by a bug planted inside in the building by Turkish intelligence.
A Saudi source who read the transcript of the recording said it indicated that the team was originally dispatched to kidnap Khashoggi and take him back to Saudi Arabia to be detained and interrogated.
According to the transcript, Khashoggi entered the consulate and told Mutreb that he would not return to Saudi Arabia with him. He then screamed, likely while being restrained.
A note in the transcript says that Khashoggi was given an injection, apparently a powerful sedative, by forensic doctor Salah Tubaigy from the Saudi Interior Ministry.
The operatives then placed a bag over Khashoggi’s head, while he yelled: “I can’t breathe. I have asthma. Don’t do this.” He died soon after.
The cause could have been a sedative overdose, choking or asphyxiation, but it remains unclear. The audio transcript refers to a buzzing noise, possibly from an electric saw used to dismember the body, being heard shortly after.
In the days following Khashoggi’s disappearance, Saudi Arabia denied any knowledge of his whereabouts, but then said he had died following a “fistfight” on the consulate premises.
Eventually, under international pressure, Riyadh admitted that Khashoggi had been killed, but dubbed it a rogue operation. Saudi prosecutors later charged 11 people for the murder but did not give their names.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman still refuses to admit involvement in the grisly killing.
The strategic partnership between the US and Saudi Arabia in military and intelligence issues is likely to remain in limbo until the prince “provides some real answers”, according to the Washington Post.
The reasons Khashoggi was killed are still disputed.
He was a journalist, dissident, and columnist for the Washington Post. He interviewed Osama bin Laden several times.
He fled Saudi Arabia in September 2017 and went into self-imposed exile after writing newspaper articles critical of the Saudi rulers, King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.