Saudi crown prince 'messaged Qahtani', around time of Khashoggi murder

Saudi crown prince 'messaged Qahtani', around time of Khashoggi murder
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was reportedly in contact with media enforcer Saud al-Qahtani at the time of journalist Jamal Khashoggi's death.
2 min read
03 December, 2018
Qahtani has been linked to the murder of Khashoggi [Getty]

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman sent a number of messages to key aide Saud al-Qahtani around the time of Jamal Khashoggi's murder, according to reports this weekend.

Qahtani, a royal court advisor, was sacked following the murder of the journalist at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on 2 October.

After initially claiming Khashoggi left the diplomatic building alive, Riyadh then said a rogue team carried out the murder without the crown prince's knowledge.

The CIA's claims of communication between the crown prince and Qahtani at the time of the journalist's death links Prince Mohammed further to Khashoggi's murder.

Around 11 messages were sent between the two Saudis roughly at the time of the murder, New York Times reported, following an earlier Wall Street Journal story.

"This is the smoking gun, or at least the smoking phone call," Bruce Riedel, a former CIA official told the US daily. 

"There is only one thing they could possibly be talking about. This shows that the crown prince was witting of premeditated murder."

The CIA has reportedly concluded that it was likely that Prince Mohammed was involved in the murder.

Qahtani allegedly directed the murder at the consulate to a murder squad sent to Istanbul for the purpose via Skype, according to Reuters.

Turkish intelligence also reported the alleged head of the murder team, Maher Abdulaziz Mutreb, told Qahtani "tell your boss" that the killing had been done, with "boss" apparently referring to the crown prince.

Dubbed the "Saudi Steve Bannon", Qahtani is known for whipping the country's journalists into submission, promising to smite the enemies of his boss, and peddling fake news.

Qahtani has said in previous online statements that he takes all his orders from the defacto ruler.

"I don't do anything from my own head without an order. I am an employee and executer to my king and my crown prince," he said.

He is also one of 17 Saudis placed under punitive US sanctions for his alleged involvement in Khashoggi's killing.

Trump has been reluctant to blame the crown prince for the killing, and it appears his administration is seeking to retain close ties with Prince Mohammed.

Khashoggi was living in exile in the US at the time of his murder, but had been growing in his criticism of the crown prince.

Prince Mohammed last year launched a purge of rival princes and business leaders, and jailed scores of activists and critics.

He has also faced criticism for the Saudi-led coalition's war in Yemen, which has plunged the country into a devastating humanitarian crisis.