Riyadh began campaign to crush dissenters prior to Khashoggi killing - NY Times

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman approved a secret operation to crush dissent more than one year before the slaying of Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi in İstanbul in 2018, the New York Times reported.

The group that killed the 59-year-old Washington Post columnist is called the “Saudi Rapid Intervention Group” and was used a number of times before Khashoggi was killed as part of a wider campaign by Riyadh to crush dissent, it said on Sunday.

Khashoggi, a vocal critic of the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was killed inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2. Turkish authorities believe a 15-man Saudi squad sent from the kingdom killed Khashoggi.

Saudi authorities say the men acted without authority. Riyadh has said 11 men have been indicted for the killing, but has not named them. 

The scale of crackdowns against dissidents has surged under the Kingdom’s crown prince, according to Bruce Riedel, a former Central Intelligence Agency analyst now with the Brookings Institution.

“We’ve never seen it on a scale like this,” Riedel told the New York Times. “A dissident like Jamal Khashoggi in the past wouldn’t have been considered worth the effort.”

The group that allegedly murdered Khashoggi was used for at least one dozen surveillance missions since 2017, the newspaper said, noting that their campaign also involved kidnapping, detaining, and torturing activists, clerics, and others.

The CIA has accused bin Salman of being directly involved in the death of the Saudi journalist whose death has caused international outrage and has tarnished the image of the Saudi crown prince, who was known for his reformism.