For the first time in the three-week saga, United States President Donald Trump implies Saudi crown prince may be involved as ”he’s running things”.
Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) might have taken part in the operation to assassinate Khashoggi, US President Trump suggested for the first time.
In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Trump was asked about the powerful crown prince’s possible involvement in the murder.
“Well, the prince is running things over there more so at this stage. He’s running things and so if anybody were going to be, it would be him,” the president responded.
Trump has previously said he believed bin Salman’s denials of playing a role in Khashoggi’s murder.
“This is certainly the closest that President Trump has come to assigning blame – to the crown prince in particular,” said Al Jazeera’s Mike Hanna, reporting from Washington, DC.
“At no stage did he link the most senior Saudi leadership with the event until this evening. He has for the first time implied the possibility that the crown prince himself was involved in the killing, and it was an assassination ordered from the very top,” he said.
Trump told the newspaper he questioned the crown prince intensely on Khashoggi’s killing “in a couple of different ways”.
“My first question to him was, ‘Did you know anything about it in terms of the initial planning?’”
Bin Salman replied he didn’t, Trump said.
“I said, ‘Where did it start?’ And he said it started at lower levels.”
Asked if he believed the crown prince’s latest denial, the American president paused: “I want to believe them. I really want to believe them.”
Bessma Momani, a senior fellow at the Stimson Center in Washington, DC, called Trump’s comments on bin Salman “damning”.
“He’s made it very clear that he thinks there’s a cover-up, which I think is very interesting because it flies in the face of everything the Saudis have been saying from the beginning in the three-week saga that’s been going on,” Momani told Al Jazeera.
Social media lit up early Wednesday with criticism of Saudi Arabia’s condolence photo showing a pained look on Khashoggi’s son’s face as he shook hands with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
King Salman and the crown prince received Khashoggi’s son Salah and his brother Sahel at the Yamama Palace in Riyadh, where the two royals expressed their condolences.
Fadi Al-Qadi, a Middle East human rights advocate and commentator, denounced the photo-op as “ruthless”.