Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman authorised a “secret campaign” to silence dissenters more than a year before the killing of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the New York Times reported on Sunday.
The campaign included surveillance, kidnapping, detention and torture of Saudi citizens, according to American officials with knowledge of classified reports.
Officials said that the members of the group, who were a part of what they called the “Saudi Rapid Intervention Group”, were involved in at least a dozen operations starting in 2017, according to New York Times.
The group carried out missions including forcibly repatriating Saudi Arabian dissidents from other Arab countries and detaining and abusing them.
The American officials did not reveal their identities for fear of repercussions from disclosing classified information or infuriating the Saudi government.
Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the Saudi Embassy in Washington said that Riyadh “takes any allegations of ill-treatment of defendants awaiting trial or prisoners serving their sentences very seriously,” the report said.
Khashoggi, a vocal critic of the Saudi regime, was killed in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2 last year, where he had gone to obtain paperwork certifying his divorce with his former wife Alaa Nassif in order to be able to re-marry his Turkish fiancée Hatice Cengiz.
After presenting several contradictory theories, Saudi Arabia acknowledged that Khashoggi was killed in the consulate premises in what the country’s then Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir had described as a “rogue operation”.
According to the US intelligence agencies, the murder of Khashoggi was enacted upon orders by the Saudi Crown Prince.
However, Saudi Arabia repeatedly rejected all the allegations against its Crown Prince, adding that it is committed to bringing the perpetrators to justice.