U.S., Saudis Fight Over Crown Prince Advisor – White House Tries to Appease Erdogan
The chief prosecutor of Saudi Arabia cleared his boss, clown prince Muhammad bin Salman, of involvement in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. A number of easily replaceable people were indicted. In a coordinated move the U.S. Treasury sanctioned a number of the people who played a role in the Khashoggi case. There is an interesting difference between the Saudi and the U.S. list of the involved people. Meanwhile the White House is looking for ways to induce Turkey to finally settle the case.
The Saudi prosecutor indicted eleven people and demands the death penalty for five of them. It is not yet known under which article of Saudi law the people were indicted. Death penalties under some articles often end with pardons. Ten other persons are still under investigation.
The story told in the briefing of the Saudi investigation results gives a new version of the events. (No names are given in the briefing. They were added below based on earlier reports.) The briefing says:
- The former Deputy President of the General Intelligence Presidency (GIP), Major General Ahmed al-Asiri, issued an order to the mission leader Maher Mutreb to bring Kashoggi back to Saudi Arabia by means of persuasion or by force.
- The leader of the mission formed a 15-member team that consisted of three groups (negotiations/ intelligence/ logistics) to persuade and return the victim. Mutreb consulted with the now fired advisor to MbS, Saud al-Qahtani, because Qahtani knew Khashoggi.
- A forensic expert was included in the team “for the purpose of removing evidence from the scene in the case force had to be used to return the victim.”
- The mission leader contacted a collaborator in Turkey “to secure a safe location in case force had to be used return the victim.”
- “After surveying the Consulate, the head of the negotiation team concluded that it would not be possible to transfer the victim by force to the safe location in case the negotiations with him to return failed. The head of the negotiation team decided to murder the victim if the negotiations failed.”
- The investigation concluded that the crime was carried out after a physical altercation with the victim where he was forcibly restrained and injected with a large amount of a drug resulting in an overdose that led to his death.
- The bod was dismembered. Five people carried the parts out of the consulate and one of them later handed them over to a collaborator.
- One member of the mission put on Khashoggi’s clothes, walked outside for a while and disposed them in a trash can.
- The leader of the mission agreed with the leader of the negotiation team to write a false report which claimed that that Khashoggi had left the consulate.
So far the story the Saudi investigation tries to sell.
It effectively absolve the clown prince. It absolves his media advisor Saud al-Qahtani and MG Ahmed al-Asiri. The leader of mission will probably be sentenced for falsifying his report, while the head of the negotiation team and some of his helpers will take the brunt of the penalties. They are commoners, three or four levels below the top, and of no further value.
The story is of course not believable. Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy. No low level employee would dare to decided to kill a person of higher interests when the order says to bring the person back alive. Neither the mission leader nor the negotiation team leader would take such a step without consulting with Riyadh.
The murder was clearly planned at a higher level and well before the team landed in Istanbul. One does not bring a person that looks like the victim to make it look like the victim walked out ‘just in case’ something bad happens. If an abduction is planned one does not bring a ‘forensic expert’ -who in reality is a well known doctor specialized in autopsies- to ‘cleanup’ the scene.
The Saudi release was coordinated with the White House. Shortly after the Saudi prosecutor went public, the U.S. Treasury sanctioned several persons under the Global Magnitzky Act over the case:
Today, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) designated Saud al-Qahtani, his subordinate Maher Mutreb, Saudi Consul General Mohammed Alotaibi, and 14 other members of an operations team for having a role in the killing of Jamal Khashoggi.
The inclusion of al-Qahtani, who was the closed advisor to MbS, is quite interesting. The Saudi investigation tale does not give a him role besides consulting with the mission leader. It even tries to exculpate him by explaining his patriotic motive:
The former advisor met with the leader of the mission and the negotiation team; to share with them information relevant to the mission based on his specialization in media. The former advisor expressed his belief that the victim was coopted by organizations and states hostile to the Kingdom and that the victim’s presence outside of Saudi Arabia represents a threat to national security and he encouraged the team to persuade the victim to return, noting that his return represents a significant achievement of the mission.
The Treasury designation gives him a way more active role:
Saud Al-Qahtani is a senior official of the Government of Saudi Arabia who was part of the planning and execution of the operation that led to the killing of Mr. Khashoggi in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey on October 2, 2018. This operation was coordinated and executed by his subordinate Maher Mutreb, and involved participation of at least 14 other Saudi government officials: …
The sanction designation describes Maher Mutreb as “subordinate” of Qahtani. The Saudi report does not mention any such relation.
This is of interest as one of the tapes the Turks have is of a phone call by mission leader Maher Mutreb with an unnamed person in Riyadh. In the call Mutrab says: “Tell your boss the deed is done”:
While the prince was not mentioned by name, American intelligence officials believe “your boss” was a reference to Prince Mohammed. Maher Abdulaziz Mutreb, one of 15 Saudis dispatched to Istanbul to confront Mr. Khashoggi at the Saudi Consulate there, made the phone call and spoke in Arabic, the people said.
The killer team was set up by Ahmed al-Asiri, but al-Asiri is not mentioned in the Treasury designation, while al-Qahtani is. The U.S. seems to believe that it was al-Qahtani who actually directed the operation and who sent his subordinate Maher Mutreb to lead the mission. Qahtani’s one and only boss is clown prince MbS.
MbS probably wants Qahtani back in his role as a personal and political advisor. The Saudi investigation puts him in a positive light while the Treasury gives him a leading role. The U.S. seem willing to let MbS stay in his job but it wants to remove Qahtani from his inner circle.
The Trump administration is also actively looking for ways to appease the Turkish President Recep Erdogan. One price Erdogan has long demanded is the head of the Gülen movement, the Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen. Erdogan claims that Gülen was behind the failed 2016 coup attempt against him.
In the late 1990s Gülen was settled in Pennsylvania with a green card the CIA’s Graham E. Fuller organized for him. Trump seem to be willing to hand Gülen over to Erdogan:
The White House is looking for ways to remove an enemy of Turkish President Recep Erdogan from the U.S. in order to placate Turkey over the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, according to two senior U.S. officials and two other people briefed on the requests.
Trump administration officials last month asked federal law enforcement agencies to examine legal ways of removing exiled Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen in an attempt to persuade Erdogan to ease pressure on the Saudi government, the four sources said.
The effort includes directives to the Justice Department and FBI that officials reopen Turkey’s case for his extradition, as well as a request to the Homeland Security Department for information about his legal status, the four people said.
The four sources talking to NBC are likely from the CIA out to sabotage Trump’s plan. Gülen and his network of schools in Turkey, now closed, and in Central Asia are a major deep state asset.
Erdogan has milked the Khashoggi case as well as he could. He still has not published the tapes taken within the Consulate and the recordings of the various phone calls. He will try to use these to get more benefits from the case.
Trump will not be able to hand Gülen to him. The deep state will do its best to prevent that. Another demand Erdogan has is the removal of U.S. support from their Kurdish proxies in Syria. Without U.S. protection for the Kurds he could pursue his plan for annexing the whole northern border region of Syria from the Mediterranean to Iraq. Would Trump willing, and able, to deliver that?
Source: Moon of Alabama