Tuesday 15 October 2019

Saudi 'hit squad' identified

Dissidents name spies alleged to have assassinated journalist

Protest: People hold pictures of Jamal Khashoggi outside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. Photo: Reuters
Protest: People hold pictures of Jamal Khashoggi outside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. Photo: Reuters

Raf Sanchez and Burhan Yuksekka

A Saudi intelligence officer who served at the kingdom's embassy in London was among an alleged "hit squad" of spies and soldiers who flew into Istanbul on the day of journalist Jamal Khashoggi's disappearance, according to dissidents.

Pro-government Turkish media published the names and photographs of 15 Saudi men who allegedly made a mysterious one-day trip to Istanbul on private jets on the day that Mr Khashoggi vanished at the Saudi consulate.

One member of the squad appears to be Maher Mutreb, a Saudi intelligence officer who was based in London in 2007.

"I recognised his photograph immediately," said Ghanem al-Dosari, a Saudi satirist living in exile in London, who knew Mr Mutreb socially. "It is crazy if he was part of a murder team."

Social media sleuths identified another man from the squad as a senior crimes scene investigator in Saudi Arabia. A third appeared to be a special forces soldier who worked as a bodyguard to Mohammed bin Salman, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia.

The apparent outing of members of the Saudi security services will add to growing international pressure on the kingdom, which faces accusations from Turkey of having murdered and dismembered Mr Khashoggi when he went to the consulate on October 2.

On camera: Video footage, shown by Turkey’s TRT, shows the alleged hit squad’s arrival. AP Photo
On camera: Video footage, shown by Turkey’s TRT, shows the alleged hit squad’s arrival. AP Photo

Saudi Arabia has vehemently denied any involvement in his disappearance and insists that Mr Khashoggi left the consulate safely after filing paperwork ahead of his forthcoming marriage to his Turkish fiancée. The international implications of Mr Khashoggi's disappearance deepened after the 'Washington Post' reported that US intelligence was aware the Saudi government was planning to kidnap the journalist.

The newspaper, where Mr Khashoggi wrote columns critical of the Saudi government, said US intelligence had intercepted communications showing Saudi officials were trying to lure the journalist back to his homeland so they could arrest him.

If confirmed, it would offer proof that the Saudi government was attempting to silence Mr Khashoggi. It would also raise questions over whether the US gave the journalist any warning that he might be in danger from his own government.

The pro-government newspaper - 'Sabah', owned by the Turkish finance minister - published the names of the 15 Saudis, accompanied by still images from CCTV. The detailed information appeared to have been leaked to the newspaper by Turkish intelligence.

A UK list of foreign diplomats in London from 2007 lists a Maher Mutreb as first secretary at the embassy, a title often used by intelligence officials. Mr Dosari said he met Mr Mutreb several times for coffee and in restaurants and believed he was tasked with tracking Saudis living in the UK.

Another man on the list, Salah Muhammed al-Tubaigy, is reported to be a lieutenant-colonel and head of the Saudi Scientific Council of Forensics. An expert on forensic evidence, he is known to have trained police officers in crime scene investigation.

The list also includes the name Mohammad Saad al-Zahrani. A photograph published online shows a Saudi royal guard standing beside Crown Prince Mohammed. His name tag, clearly visible on his black uniform, reads Mohammad Saad al-Zahrani.

None of the men could be reached for comment. Saudi Arabia gave no official response to the allegation that members of its security services were on the planes.

Donald Trump, the US president, said he had raised Mr Khashoggi's case with Saudi Arabia "at the highest level" and more than once in recent days. "We're demanding everything," Mr Trump said when asked if he was demanding information from the Saudis. "We want to see what's going on. It's a very serious situation for us and for this White House. We want to get to the bottom of it." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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