FRONTLINE Raises Serious Questions About Jamal Khashoggi’s Murder in Contentious Interviews

September 27, 2019

Saudi officials maintain that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had no prior knowledge of the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.

But in powerful and occasionally contentious new interviews, FRONTLINE correspondent Martin Smith raises serious questions about how Khashoggi’s murder in October 2018 could have been, as they have insisted, a “rogue operation.” In the FRONTLINE documentary The Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Smith presses high-ranking Saudi official Adel al-Jubeir about how they could come to such a conclusion while the murder is still being investigated.

“You’ve reached a conclusion that this was a rogue operation before the investigation is complete,” Smith tells Jubeir, who is now the minister of state for foreign affairs.

“It seems to me — that you have made up your mind before you watched the due process,” Jubeir responds in the heated exchange.

No, you’ve made up your mind that it’s a rogue operation,” Smith says. “There are so many holes in — in your story — the story that you put out there, even the president in the United States said, ‘This is the worst cover-up I’ve ever seen.’”

When Khashoggi disappeared, the Saudi government initially said that he had left the Saudi consulate in Istanbul alive, and that it had no information on his whereabouts. Days after the murder, evidence emerged that Khashoggi was killed and dismembered by a team of 15 Saudi agents who flew in and out of Istanbul on government planes. After several weeks, the Saudis acknowledged Khashoggi’s death, but insisted the killing had been the result of a “brawl and a fist fight” and was a “rogue operation.” Days later, the official Saudi story then shifted again: they admitted there was evidence the killing had been premeditated but maintained from then forward that it was a “rogue operation.”

Yet as the new FRONTLINE film recounts, of the 15 Saudi agents believed to have carried out Khashoggi’s killing, five are reported to have worked under Prince Mohammed’s aide Saud al-Qahtani. Maher Mutreb, the alleged ringleader on the ground, was on the crown prince’s personal security detail.

Smith also pressed Jubeir about the crown prince’s ties to Mutreb, Qahtani and the murder in the above exchange from The Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia.

You went on television on FOX News on October 21 — and you said that none of those involved in Khashoggi’s death had close ties to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman,” Smith says.

Because he has … these were security individuals. Security people have rotations, they sometimes serve — for specific times in terms of security or other issues,” Jubeir says.

But these weren’t just security individuals,” Smith counters. “Mutreb, who traveled extensively with the crown prince, including in the United States, was on the scene. Are you saying that you didn’t know that the people that were involved in the murder were close to the crown prince at the time that you said that?”

“They — the crown prince has a lot of people who are close to him or who claim to be close to him. He has a lot of people who take their pictures with him,” Jubeir responds.

“You’re asking all these questions,” Jubeir says when Smith went on to ask him about Qahtani.

In the clip, Smith also speaks to Norman Roule, former CIA official, who says it is likely that Prince Mohammed must have at least known of a rendition. Roule went on to confirm that he had high-level Saudi contacts that told him that it was a rendition.

The exchange with Jubeir is just one element of the new reporting in The Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia — which examines Mohammed bin Salman’s rise, his rule, and the evidence linking him to the events surrounding Khashoggi’s murder. On Wednesday, FRONTLINE published Prince Mohammed’s first comments on his role in Khashoggi’s death.

“It happened under my watch. I get all the responsibility, because it happened under my watch,” the Saudi leader told Smith. He went on to insist he had no knowledge of the murder that the CIA believes he ordered.

For the full story, watch The Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia when it premieres Tuesday, Oct. 1 at 8 p.m. EST/9 p.m. CST. Tune in or stream on PBS (check local listings), at and on the PBS Video App.

Patrice Taddonio

Patrice Taddonio, Digital Writer & Audience Development Strategist, FRONTLINE



In order to foster a civil and literate discussion that respects all participants, FRONTLINE has the following guidelines for commentary. By submitting comments here, you are consenting to these rules:

Readers' comments that include profanity, obscenity, personal attacks, harassment, or are defamatory, sexist, racist, violate a third party's right to privacy, or are otherwise inappropriate, will be removed. Entries that are unsigned or are "signed" by someone other than the actual author will be removed. We reserve the right to not post comments that are more than 400 words. We will take steps to block users who repeatedly violate our commenting rules, terms of use, or privacy policies. You are fully responsible for your comments.

blog comments powered by Disqus

More Stories

Former Worker Sues Tampa Lead Smelter Over Son’s Exposure
The worker alleges dusty conditions at Gopher Resource, Florida’s only lead factory, resulted in his son’s lead exposure.
June 2, 2021
A Handful of States Fueled a National Increase in Domestic Violence Shooting Deaths as COVID-19 Spread
More than 2,000 people were killed by domestic-violence-related shootings in 2020 — a 4% increase across the U.S. over 2019, according to data from the Gun Violence Archive. But that uptick was not equally distributed.
June 2, 2021
The Designated Terrorist and the Fight Over the Future of Syria’s Last Opposition Stronghold
In 'The Jihadist,' Martin Smith becomes the first Western journalist to interview Syrian militant Abu Mohammad al-Jolani and investigates his rebranding efforts.
June 1, 2021
Their Brother Catalyzed a Movement in Utah Last Year. Now Bernardo Palacios-Carbajal’s Siblings Just Want Relief.
Last summer, activists in Utah chanted Bernardo Palacios-Carbajal’s name alongside George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.
May 28, 2021