Saudi Arabia said it rejected completely “the negative, false and unacceptable” assessment of a U.S. intelligence report released on Friday that found Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had approved the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler approved an operation to capture or kill the Washington Post columnist in 2018, the U.S. report said, as the United States sanctioned some of those involved but not the crown prince himself.
“The government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia completely rejects the …. assessment in the report pertaining to the Kingdom’s leadership, and notes that the report contained inaccurate information and conclusions,” the Saudi Foreign Ministry said in a statement carried by state news agency SPA.
“The crime was committed by a group of individuals that have transgressed all pertinent regulations… and the kingdom’s leadership took the necessary steps to ensure that such a tragedy never takes place again,” the foreign ministry statement added.
“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs affirms that the partnership between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United States of America is a robust and enduring partnership,” the statement said.
Commentators close to the government took to social media to defend the crown prince, King Salman’s son and de facto ruler of the kingdom.
Ali Shihabi, former head of the Arabia Foundation in Washington which regularly supports Saudi policy, said there was nothing in the report that had not been said before and “absolutely no smoking gun.”
“Extraordinary that all this hype is made about this document… This thin ‘report’ is actually evidence that no hard proof exists against MBS,” Shihabi said on Twitter.
Abdulrahman al-Rashed, a Saudi columnist who runs a government-controlled media group said “… and it is stated in the report: It is not certain that the accused team was on a journey to get rid of Khashoggi.”
He too said there was “no smoking gun.”
Saudi Arabia’s biggest newspapers and television channels did not cover the release of the report, instead showing sports events and other unrelated programming. In its evening bulletin, Saudi-owned Al Arabiya referred to it briefly, focusing on what it said was the absence of concrete evidence.
“The nation is fortified,” wrote the conservative and semi-official Okaz newspaper on the front page of its weekend edition, with a large picture of the crown prince smiling.
“The Biden administration will soon realize that the complex issues of the region will not find a solution, except through a new and exceptional agreement with its partners in the region that includes holding Tehran accountable,” Okaz said.
A few minutes after the report was released, many Saudis flooded Twitter with the hashtag saying, “We are all Mohammed bin Salman.”
Activists and rights groups, however, clamored for justice and sanctions against Saudi Arabia and MbS on social media.
“Thank you, Joe Biden for transparency about Jamal Khashoggi’s murder. Now we need sanctions on the Saudi prince responsible,” Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN), a U.S.-based human rights group founded by Khashoggi, said in a statement.
An “MbS-Khashoggi-killer” hashtag started trending after the release of the report.
Speaking after the report’s release, Yahya Assiri, a prominent Saudi dissident in exile who serves as the secretary general of a recently formed opposition group, the National Assembly Party, added his party’s support for the report’s findings but called for more stringent measures against MbS and those responsible.
“We renew our demands that those responsible must appear before an honest and fair international tribunal,” he said.
Hatice Cengiz, Khashoggi’s fiancee, tweeted: “#justiceforjamal.”
A Saudi Arabian court jailed eight people last year for between seven and 20 years over the murder of Khashoggi after his family forgave his killers and enabled death sentences to be set aside.
Khashoggi, a critic of the crown prince, was last seen at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2, 2018, where he had gone to obtain documents for his impending wedding. His body was dismembered and removed from the building and his remains have not been found.
The murder caused a global uproar and tarnished the reformist image of Prince Mohammed, and strained the relationship between the U.S. and its closest Arab ally.