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

September 27, 2019
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by Patrice Taddonio Digital Writer & Audience Development Strategist

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 PBS.org/frontline and on the PBS Video App.

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