Saudi royal adviser Saud Al-Qahtani led the social networks for the crown prince, raised the arrest of hundreds of elites in his country and arrested a Lebanese prime minister.
And, according to two intelligence sources, he orchestrated the brutal murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, giving orders on Skype.
Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist based in the United States who often criticizes Saudi Arabia and its leadership, entered the Istanbul consulate around 1 pm on October 2, to collect some documents that would allow him to marry.
Saudi royal aide Saud Al-Qahtani led the social networks for the crown prince, raised the arrest of hundreds of elites in his country and arrested a Lebanese prime minister
A CCTV image that allegedly shows the Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi and his girlfriend, Hatice Cengiz, in an apartment building in Istanbul, Turkey, a few hours before his death at the Saudi Consulate.
Turkish security sources say he was immediately captured at the consulate by 15 Saudi intelligence agents who had traveled on two planes just hours before.
According to a senior Arab source with access to intelligence and links to members of the royal court in Saudi Arabia, Qahtani was transferred to a room in the Saudi consulate via Skype.
He started hurling insults at Khashoggi by telephone. According to Arab and Turkish sources, Khashoggi responded to Qahtani's insults with his people. But it was no match for the squad, which included the main security and intelligence agents, some with direct links to the royal court.
A Turkish intelligence source reported that at one point, Qahtani told his men to get rid of Khashoggi. "Bring me the dog's head," says the Turkish intelligence source that Qahtani instructed.
It is not clear if Qahtani observed the whole process, which the high-ranking Arab source described as a "failed and failed operation".
The Arabic source and the Turkish intelligence source said that the audio of the Skype call is now in the possession of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan. The sources say he refuses to give it to the Americans.
Al-Qahtani is just one of the autumn boys when Riyadh tries to contain the international outrage over Khashoggi's death.
Turkish officials say the Saudi team approached Khashoggi (pictured) at the embassy, cut off his fingers, murdered and dismembered the 59-year-old writer.
Turkish crime scene investigators arrive after a vehicle belonging to the Saudi Arabian Consulate in Istanbul with a diplomatic license plate was found in a parking area in the Sultangazi district of Istanbul,
On Saturday, Saudi state media reported that King Salman had fired Qahtani and four other officials for the murder committed by a 15-man team.
But the influence of Qahtani in the entourage of the crown prince has been so vast in the last three years, his own rise in following his boss, that it will be difficult for Saudi officials to paint Qahtani as the mastermind of the murder without raising questions on the participation of Prince Mohammed, according to several sources with links to the royal court.
This episode will not knock down MbS, but it has hit its image, which will take a long time to be repaired if it ever does. The king is protecting him, "said one of the sources linked to the royal court.
Qahtani himself once said that he would never do anything without his boss's approval.
Do you think I make decisions without guidance? I am an employee and a faithful enforcer of the orders of my lord the king and my lord the crown prince, "Qahtani tweeted last summer.
Qahtani did not respond to Reuters' questions. His biography on Twitter changed in the last days from real adviser to president of the Saudi Federation of Cybersecurity, Programming and Drones, a role he had previously played.
Prince Mohammed was unaware of the operation that led to Khashogli's death and "certainly did not order a kidnapping or murder of anyone," a Saudi official said on Saturday. Officials in Riyadh could not be contacted for further comments.
A car belonging to the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul was found in the Sultangazi district of the city today. The station NTV and other local media said that the police would register the vehicle
A car with diplomatic plates and allegedly belonging to the Saudi Arabian Consulate in Istanbul was found in an underground parking garage on Monday.
As the crisis has grown in the past three weeks, Saudi Arabia has changed its tone about Khashoggi's fate, first denying his death, then saying that he died during a fight at the consulate, and now attributes death to a strangulation.
A senior Saudi official told Reuters that the killers had tried to cover up what happened, arguing that the truth was just emerging. The Turks reject that version of the story, saying they have audio recordings of what happened.
The kingdom has survived other crises in the past year, including the fall of the brief abduction of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri from the crown prince in 2017. Hariri was also verbally humiliated and beaten, according to eight Saudis, Arabs and diplomatic sources. Western The man who directed that interrogation: Saud al-Qahtani.
France intervened to free Hariri, but Western capitals did not criticize Riyadh for arresting a head of government, and Prince Mohammed emerged emboldened, according to these Saudi sources.
This time is different, with some Western capitals increasingly critical of the Saudi murder and explanation.
Germany announced it will stop arms sales, while Britain, France and Germany issued a joint statement calling for an "urgent clarification … of exactly what happened on October 2."
A car belonging to the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul was found in the Sultangazi district of the city today. In the photo is the man who thinks he has left the car.
The US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo (left), meets with the crown prince of the Saudi crown Mohammed bin Salman in Riyadh to discuss the Khashoggi case on October 18.
President Donald Trump said he is not happy with the Saudi investigation, but also that he does not want to endanger the sale of US arms to the country.
To stop the consequences of the killing of Khashoggi, the crown prince, commonly known by his initials MbS, allowed Qahtani to take the fall, according to a source close to the royal court of Saudi Arabia.
A second senior Saudi official said Qahtani had been arrested after being fired by royal decree, but then continued to tweet. Sources with links to the royal court said he was not believed to be under arrest.
Erdogan said on Sunday he would release information about the Turkish investigation during a weekly speech on Tuesday. Three Turkish officials contacted by Reuters declined to comment before the speech.
The senior Saudi official who presented the official version of the events (that Khashoggi had got into a fight) said he had not heard Qahtani appear on Skype, but that the Saudi investigation was ongoing.
Qahtani, 40, has earned a reputation at home as a violent enforcer of princely whims and as a strident nationalist. In blogs and social media, some journalists and liberal activists in Saudi Arabia called him the Saudi Steve Bannon for his aggressive manipulation of the media and the strategy behind the scenes.
Qahtani wrote odes on Twitter to the royal family under the pseudonym of Dari, which means predator in Arabic. Some of his opponents in social networks call him Dalim, a figure of Arab folklore who rose from being a humble servant to much greater heights.
CCTV images have surfaced showing a Saudi intelligence officer dressed in a fake beard and the clothes and glasses of Jamal Khashogui (left) on the day the journalist disappeared.
It is said that the images were taken only a few hours after the author was seen alive for the last time upon entering the embassy (in the photo)
According to his biography on his Twitter account, Qahtani studied law and served as a captain in the Saudi air force. After launching a blog, he caught the attention of Khaled al-Tuwaijri, the former head of the royal court, who hired him in the early 2000s to lead an electronic media army charged with protecting the image of Saudi Arabia, according to a source of ties with the royal court.
Tuwaijri is under house arrest and could not be reached for comment.
Qahtani acquired greater prominence after joining Prince Mohammed, who was part of his father's court Salman as governor of Riyadh, then crown prince and finally king in 2015
With the task of countering the alleged Qatari influence in social networks, Qahtani used Twitter to attack criticism of the kingdom in general and Prince Mohammed in particular. He also led a WhatsApp group with local newspaper editors and prominent journalists, dictating the royal court line.
When Riad led an economic boycott against Qatar in June 2017, Qahtani intensified its attacks against the small Gulf state. Online, he urged the Saudis to tweet the names of anyone who shows sympathy for Qatar under the Arab hashtag "The Black List".
The senior Arab official and Saudi sources linked to the royal court said that Qahtani was the "bad police" of MbS at the end of last year when 200 people, including Saudi princes, ministers and business magnates, were arrested and placed under arrest. domicile at the Ritz Carlton. In an anti-corruption sweep. Qahtani oversaw some of the interrogations, the Arab official said.
The extent of Qahtani's power is perhaps best illustrated by the abduction of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri last year, several Saudi and Arab diplomatic sources said.
Turkish forensics enter an underground parking lot that was blocked by Turkish police today, after they found an abandoned car belonging to the Saudi consulate.
Police said they will search the car, which was discovered three weeks after the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi.
The Saudis were outraged by the inability of Hariri, a Sunni Muslim and a Saudi client, to confront his regional rival, Iran and Hezbollah, the Shi'ite paramilitary movement that acts as Tehran's spearhead in the region. Hariri belonged to the same multiparty coalition government as Hezbollah.
The Saudis were particularly dismayed that Hariri had not transmitted a message to a senior adviser to the Iranian supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to stop interfering in Lebanon and Yemen. Hariri claimed that he had delivered the Saudi message, but an informant, planted by Qahtani in Hariri's circle, gave the Saudis the minutes of the meeting that showed he had not done so.
The Saudis attracted Hariri to Riyadh for a meeting with MbS. Upon his arrival on November 3, 2017, there was no lineup of Saudi princes or officers, as they would typically greet a prime minister on an official visit. Later, Hariri received a call that the meeting with the crown prince would take place the next day in a royal compound.
When Hariri arrived, he was taken to a room where Qahtani was waiting for him with a security team, according to three Arab sources familiar with the incident. The security team defeated Hariri; Qahtani cursed him and then forced him to resign as prime minister in a statement issued by a Saudi-owned television station.
"He (Qahtani) told him that he has no choice but to resign and read this statement," said one of the sources. "Qahtani supervised the interrogation and the mistreatment of Hariri."
Another source said it was the intervention of French President Emmanuel Macron, which ensured his release after an international protest.
Macron claimed the credit in May for ending the crisis, and said an unscheduled stop in Riyadh to convince MbS, followed by an invitation to Hariri to come to France, had been the catalyst to resolve it. Lebanese officials confirmed to Reuters that Macron's swift intervention ensured Hariri's return.
Saudi officials could not be contacted to comment on the sequence of events or the participation of Qahtani. French officials refused to comment when asked about the role of Qahtani.
Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir (pictured) insisted on Sunday that Prince Mohammed "was not aware" of the killing and that the regime was still working to find the body.
Turkish media reported that a member of Prince Mohammed bin Salman's entourage of the Crown of Saudi Arabia made four calls to the royal office from the Saudi Arabian Consulate in Istanbul the day that Jamal Khashoggi (pictured) was killed there.
At least three Khashoggi friends told Reuters that in the months after the journalist moved to Washington a year ago, he received multiple phone calls from MbS's right-hand man urging him to return to Saudi Arabia. Khashoggi had opposed, they said, fearing reprisals for his Washington Post columns and open opinions.
Qahtani had tried to reassure the former editor of the newspaper that he was still highly respected and had offered the journalist a job as a consultant in the royal court, the friends said.
Khashoggi said that while he found Qahtani friendly and polite during those talks, he did not trust him, a close friend told Reuters. & # 39; Jamal told me later, & # 39; He thinks I'll be back so he can put me in jail? & # 39;
The second senior Saudi official confirmed that Qahtani had spoken with Khashoggi about his return home. The ambush in Istanbul seems to have been another way to take it home.
How much did the crown prince know about his trusted aide's plan to kidnap Khashoggi?
Kushner tells Saudis to be transparent
White House aide, Jared Kushner, said on Monday he had advised Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to be "totally transparent" with an investigation into the murder of a journalist who has shaken the kingdom's ties with the West. .
Kushner, asking CNN what his advice for Prince Mohammed had been, replied: "Just to be transparent. To be totally transparent. The world is watching.
Kushner added that he told the crown prince, who faces the accusations that ordered the murder, "that he take this very seriously."
When asked if he believed that the Saudis could be trusted to undertake their own investigation into Khashogui's murder, Kushner replied that "as a government, we are more in the research phase."
The majority of the 15 teams of male assassins identified by the Turkish and Saudi authorities worked for the security and intelligence services, military, government ministries, security of the royal courts and the kingdom's air force. One of them, General Maher Mutreb, a senior intelligence officer, who is part of Prince Mohammed's security team, appeared in photographs with him on official visits earlier this year to the United States and Europe.
The senior Arab official and the Turkish intelligence source said that it was Mutreb's phone that was used to dial in Qahtani while questioning Khashoggi.
Reuters tried to communicate with members of the 15-man team, but their phones were off, on voice mail or they were no longer in service.
The Saudi official said that the deputy chief of intelligence General Ahmed al-Asiri gathered the 15-man squad of intelligence and security forces. Asiri was one of five officials dismissed on Saturday.
Another key figure was Dr. Salah al-Tubaigy, a forensic expert specialized in autopsies attached to the Ministry of the Interior of Saudi Arabia. His presence, equipped with a Turkish source that Turkish sources say was used to dismember the journalist, is difficult to explain in an operation that Saudi officials now say was aimed at persuading Khashoggi to return home.
It is difficult to imagine that the crown prince would not have heard of such a delicate operation, say Saudi sources linked to the royal court.
The Saudi official who spoke on Saturday said that an existing permanent order granted authorization to "negotiate" with the dissidents to return home without requiring approval, but that the team involved with Khashoggi exceeded that authorization.
Another Saudi official close to the investigation said that Qahtani decided on his own to organize the kidnapping of Khashoggi and that he asked Asiri to form a team, but that his plans had failed.
The last act of Qahtani may be to serve his boss by taking responsibility for the crisis that has hit Saudi Arabia since Khashoggi's assassination. The Saudi king has fired Qahtani and ordered a restructuring of the general intelligence agency.