The Saudi crown prince was plotting the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi for at least a year before his death in Istanbul last fall, The New York Times reported.
An article on Thursday cited former and current officials from the U.S. and other countries saying that intelligence agencies intercepted a conversation between Mohammed bin Salman and a senior advisor.
It constituted “the most detailed evidence to date” that the crown prince considered having Khashoggi killed long before a team of Saudi operatives strangled him inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.
The conversation between bin Salman and his adviser Turki Aldakhil in September 2017 reveal the Saudi government was increasingly disturbed by Khashoggi’s criticisms, said an official who saw intelligence reports.
The official added that in the same conversation the prince gave orders of forcefully bringing Khashoggi back to the Kingdom is he does not return willingly.
Bin Salman said that if the two methods do not work they will go after the Saudi journalist with “a bullet”.
U.S. intelligence analysts underlined that bin Salman’s use of “bullet” in conversation refers to his intentions of killing and not just shooting the journalist.
Aldakhil, who was general director of Al-Arabiya, a Saudi-owned pan-Arab television news channel, until international outrage poured in over the journalist, was never mentioned in investigation of the Khashoggi case.
Aldakhil and bin Salman had planned to offer a job to Khashoggi in Al-Arabiya with the intent to bring him back to the country.
Some Saudi news sites wrote that Aldakhil, who stepped down from his position in Al-Arabiya last month, is the top choice for appointment as Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Abu Dhabi.
A few days before meeting Aldakhil, the prince expressed his displeasure to Saud al-Qahtani, another former adviser, over Khashoggi’s social media posts and articles .
Al-Qahtani warned bin Salman that a possible attack on Khashoggi could cause international outcry, but the prince maintained that the Kingdom should not care for reactions on issues related to its citizens.
Khashoggi was killed and dismembered by a group of Saudi operatives shortly after he entered the country’s consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2.
Riyadh offered various, conflicting narratives to explain his disappearance before acknowledging he was murdered in the diplomatic building, seeking to blame his death on a botched rendition operation being carried out by rogue agents.
But that explanation has been roundly rejected outside of the Kingdom, as pressure has mounted for bin Salman, whom many believe had to have signed off on Khashoggi’s killing, to be held to account.