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How did Jamal Khashoggi die? As US report suggests Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed approved killing, debate begins anew

01:40 PM Feb 26, 2021 | Anwesha Mitra

More than two years after it happened, the United States has pledged to tell the world what happened to journalist Jamal Khashoggi and what role Saudi Arabia's crown prince played in the brutal killing. US intelligence agencies concluded in 2018 that the prince likely ordered the killing, a finding reported by news media but never officially released.

Now, the US has announced its intention to rectify this, and the declassified US intelligence report is expected to be made available shortly. Needless to say, this has also set off a discussion of how the newly appointed administration will cope with the situation, and how exactly US-Saudi Arabia ties will be affected.

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In a statement, the White House said that Joe Biden had spoken to Saudi King Salman ahead of the expected release, with the two affirming their intention to work for bilateral ties in a "strong and transparent" manner.

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In the meantime, a CNN report from Thursday has claimed that the two private jets used by the Saudi Arabian assassination squad were owned by a company that had been seized by Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman some time earlier.

The death of Saudi Arabian author and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi had sent shockwaves through the world. Having entered the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul on October 2018 to obtain some document for his upcoming marriage, he appeared to vanish from within the building. As reports began speculating that he had been killed in a rather gruesome manner, Khashoggi was declared missing.

Since then, there have been numerous allegations about the involvement of Saudi authorities in the writer's death. In 2020, his fiancée Hatice Cengiz even sued Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for allegedly ordering the killing - something he has denied.

But even as the role of the royal was being debated, Saudi Arabia in 2019 sentenced five to death for their roles in the gruesome murder. Three others faced a total of 24 years in prison. Later, in 2020 this sentence was commuted after the slain writer's family pardoned the individuals facing the death penalty.

There were several theories for how Khashoggi had died - from dismemberment to strangulation to drug injections. And in the absense of a body, the claims continue to persist. While Saudi officials insisted that a team of agents sent to persuade him to return to the country had gone rogue and murdered him, Turkish officials insisted that the orders had come from the highest levels of the Saudi government.

Also Read: Journalist Jamal Khashoggi murder happened 'under my watch', says Saudi Crown Prince

Saudi Arabia's deputy public prosecutor Shalaan al-Shalaan eventually said that while five individuals had confessed to the murder, the Crown Prince had not had any knowledge about the same. In the aftermath, senior government officials were also sacked. Rejecting the findings of an UN investigation, Saudi Arabia insisted that the death had not been premeditated.

Agnès Callamard, the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions appointed by the United Nations Human Rights Council holds a different viewpoint. In a 2019 report, she had concluded that it could be called an "extrajudicial killing" for which Saudi Arabia was responsible. Callamard also suggested that there was "credible evidence" to warrant an investigation into the Crown Prince and other high level officials.

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