The former head of Britain’s foreign intelligence service MI6 believes “very compelling” evidence indicates that the Saudi crown prince was behind the death of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Sawers also maintained that the prince likely would not have moved against Khashoggi, a U.S. resident who disappeared Oct. 2, unless he was convinced he had nothing to fear from the U.S.
“They must have thought they could somehow get away with it because the Trump administration wouldn’t hold them to account,” Sawers said.
He also told BBC Radio 4: “All the evidence points to [the killing] being ordered and carried out by people close to Mohammed Bin Salman. I don’t think he would have done this if he hadn’t thought he had license from the U.S. administration to frankly behave as he wishes to do so.”
Sawers, who headed MI6 until 2014, added, “I think President Trump and his ministerial team are waking up to just how dangerous it is to have people acting with a sense that they have impunity in their relationship with the United States.”
Sawers spoke before the Saudi government finally admitted Friday that Khashoggi did, in fact, die inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul soon after arriving to receive paperwork. A statement on state TV said that the journalist died during a physical altercation. Eighteen people have been arrested as the government conducts an investigation into Khashoggi’s death.
Turkish officials have said that a hit squad was sent from Riyadh to Turkey to kill Khashoggi under orders from the Saudi government. They say they have tape from the consulate proving that he was tortured, murdered and dismembered.
Details Turkish intelligence has about the “hit squad” reveal how “close they are to the crown prince,” Sawers told the BBC.
After speaking on the phone earlier this week with Saudi King Salman, Trump said that “rogue killers” could have been responsible for Khashoggi’s death. Sawers said that a “rogue elements” theory “simply doesn’t hold water” and that it “further undermines respect for America when it panders to such a blatant fiction.”
Sawers said he was basing his judgment on what happened to Khashoggi on British government sources and Turkish intelligence, which he knows to be “professional” and “thorough.”
Sawers said tensions between Turkey and Saudi Arabia undoubtedly led to careful monitoring of the Saudi consulate, and may have included bugging devices.
“The level of detail that is coming out from Turkish security sources is so clear and so damning that some form of tape must exist” about what happened to Khashoggi, Sawers told the BBC.
“If it is proven, and it looks very likely to be the case, that [the crown prince] ordered the killing of the journalist, it is a step too far ― one that the UK, the EU and the U.S. are going to have to respond to.”