CIA concludes Saudi prince ordered Khashoggi killing: officials

The CIA believes Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul, a source familiar with the matter said on Friday, in a finding that contradicts Saudi government assertions that he was not involved.

Saudi government has denied Prince Mohammed bin Salman was involved in journalist's murder

The CIA has concluded that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the killing of Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi, according to a report Friday by the Washington Post. (Fayez Nureldine/AFP/Getty Images)

The CIA believes Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul, a source familiar with the matter said on Friday, in a finding that contradicts Saudi government assertions that he was not involved.

The source said the CIA had briefed other parts of the U.S. government on its assessment.

The CIA's finding, first reported by the Washington Post, is the most definitive U.S. assessment to date tying Saudi Arabia's de facto ruler directly to the killing.

Both the White House and the U.S. State Department declined to comment. The Saudis issued a denial. 

"The claims in this purported assessment is false," a spokesperson for the Saudi Embassy in Washington said in a statement. "We have and continue to hear various theories without seeing the primary basis for these speculations."

Khashoggi, a critic of the Saudi government and a columnist for the Washington Post, was killed at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2 when he went there to pick up documents he needed for his planned marriage to a Turkish woman.

Jamal Khashoggi, a critic of the Saudi government and a columnist for the Washington Post, was killed at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2 when he went there to pick up documents he needed for his planned marriage to a Turkish woman. (Virginia Mayo/The Associated Press)

Khashoggi had resisted pressure from Riyadh for him to return home. Saudi officials have said a team of 15 Saudi nationals were sent to confront Khashoggi at the consulate and that he was accidentally killed in a chokehold by men who were trying to force him to return to the kingdom.

Turkish officials have said the killing was intentional and have been pressuring Saudi Arabia to extradite those responsible to stand trial. An adviser to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday accused Saudi Arabia of trying to cover up the murder.

Saudi Arabia's public prosecutor said on Thursday that he was seeking the death penalty for five suspects charged in the killing. The prosecutor, Shalaan al-Shalaan, told reporters the crown prince knew nothing of the operation, in which Khashoggi's body was dismembered and removed from the consulate.

Prince's brother reportedly spoke with Khashoggi

U.S. officials have been skeptical that the prince would not have known about plans to kill Khashoggi, given his power in Saudi Arabia.

The Washington Post, citing people familiar with the matter, reported the CIA concluded bin Salman ordered the killing after the agency examined multiple sources of intelligence, including a phone call that the prince's brother Khalid bin Salman — the Saudi ambassador to the United States — had with Khashoggi.

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Khalid told Khashoggi he should go to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to retrieve the documents and gave him assurances that it would be safe to do so, the Post said.

The newspaper, citing people familiar with the call, said it was not clear if Khalid knew Khashoggi would be killed but that he made the call at his brother's direction.

Ambassador Khalid bin Salman denied making the phone call, saying in a Twitter post on Friday that the last contact he had with Khashoggi was via text on Oct. 26, 2017, nearly a year before the journalist's death.

"I never talked to him by phone and certainly never suggested he go to Turkey for any reason. I ask the US government to release any information regarding this claim," Prince Khalid said.

The Post said the CIA also examined a call from inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul after Khashoggi's killing.

Maher Mutreb, a security official who has often been seen at the crown prince's side, made the call to Saud al-Qahtani, a top aide to the crown prince, to inform him the operation had been completed, the Post said, citing people familiar with the call.