WASHINGTON — In October 2017, Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi crossed a line that made him a marked man and led, most likely, to his brutal death, according to one of his close friends.
His offense: He dared to criticize the country’s volatile Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in a Washington Post column that accused the supposedly reformist strongman — and a strategic partner of White House adviser Jared Kushner — of imprisoning intellectuals, journalists and other political dissidents.
“That article came in the middle of this charm campaign that the Saudis and Prince Mohammed bin Salman were having,” said Khaled Saffuri, a political analyst who met with Khashoggi regularly in recent months, even smoking cigars with him a few weeks ago, shortly before the journalist left the U.S. for Istanbul.
In an interview for the Yahoo News podcast “Skullduggery,” Saffuri explained that Khashoggi evolved from a onetime defender of the royal family to an outspoken critic who became increasingly distrustful — and fearful — of his country’s powerful new de facto ruler.
He spoke as the Washington Post was reporting that Turkish officials had informed the U.S. that they had audio and video recordings proving that Khashoggi was interrogated, tortured and then murdered after he entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2.
The Saudis were spending “hundreds of millions of dollars in the U.S. and the West selling the idea that [Crown Prince Mohammed] is a reformer, that he is going to change Saudi Arabia into the 21st century,” Saffuri said. “So for someone to come and write something like this — that’s saying the guy’s not really what he’s telling the world he is — probably angered Mohammad bin Salman a lot.”
Download or subscribe on iTunes: “Skullduggery” from Yahoo News
Saffuri recalled that last May, a senior adviser to Crown Prince Mohammed called Khashoggi and tried to lure him back to Saudi Arabia, offering him a top job if he returned to the kingdom from the U.S.
“He told him the crown prince would love him back, and he would like to give him a position as an adviser — close adviser,” said Saffuri, who spoke to Khashoggi the day he got the phone call. “He said, “We know you’re a loyal Saudi, you love your country, and we love you.’”
But Khashoggi spurned the offer, Saffuri said.
“So I said, ‘What do you think, would you go?’” Saffuri said he asked Khashoggi about the job offer from the crown prince. And he said Khashoggi told him: “No way, are you kidding me? I don’t trust him one bit.”
To the contrary, Khashoggi kept up his criticisms of Saudi policy. In his last column for the Post, published Sept. 13, Khashoggi crossed another red line when he criticized the Saudi military campaign in Yemen, writing that it was undermining Saudi Arabia’s standing internationally and calling for an end to the conflict. “The longer this cruel war lasts in Yemen, the more permanent the damage will be,” he wrote.
It marked another turning point for Khashoggi, who had in the past supported the Saudi effort in Yemen to counter the influence of the country’s mortal enemy in Iran.
“In the beginning, he supported the intervention, but with the amount of casualties, especially civilian casualties … he was saying, ‘It’s time now to stop,’” Saffuri said.
And Saffuri said he believes the crown prince and the Saudis may well have felt emboldened by Trump’s attacks on journalists as the “enemy of the people.”
Trump’s “rhetoric against journalists probably encouraged the Saudis to do it,” said Saffuri, with the Saudis concluding: “Trump hates journalists and he would not react if we kill one journalist.”
More “Skullduggery” from Yahoo News:
- Episode 21: ‘We had a suspect’
- Episode 22: Lying through their teeth
- Episode 23: Before their rear end hits the chair
- Episode 24: ‘Finish it the hell up’
- Episode 25: The battle over Kavanaugh
- Episode 26: The Trump mystery: Pathology or kompromat
- Episode 27: “Who is minding the store?”
- Episode 28: The impeachment election
- Episode 29: An inside look at the intelligence community, Russia and the mystery of magic
- Episode 30: Active measures
- Episode 31: What if the president is deranged?
- Episode 32: Abuse of power
- Episode 33: Loud threats and bitter menaces
- Episode 34: Hot for teacher
- Episode 35: Tickling the wire