His tacit involvement was never in doubt. But it has taken close to a year for Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) to take “full responsibility” for the incredibly brutal killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and tell the world that it “happened under my watch”. It really did and the confession now comes from the primary suspect. In a word, Khashoggi was killed at the behest of the royalty, which has grown increasingly fractious ever since the tragedy.
Crown Prince Salman’s prospects of ascending the throne were under a cloud in the aftermath of the killing. For nearly a year, no one has been convicted for the murder; the kingdom insisted on conducting its own trial, which was generally viewed as an exercise in showboating. And yet, despite the months of failure in solving the crime and cooperating with the international community, a belated statement has been advanced on Wednesday by the Crown Prince. It is, in a sense, a testimony on his personal involvement in the killing on 2 October 2018 in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
The US-based journalist was done to death and his body dismembered in a form of brutality that revealed the worst face of the desert kingdom. Initially denying and later downplaying the incident as an accidental killing in a fistfight, Riyadh finally admitted almost three weeks after his disappearance that Khashoggi was murdered in a premeditated fashion but denied any involvement of the royal family. Salman’s admission is the first step towards making the position clear on his suspected involvement. A startling feature has been the cover-up that has persisted for about a year.
The incident was initially blamed on lower-level officials, including five who are now facing the death penalty over their involvement. A Saudi public prosecutor said in March that they would seek the death penalty for five suspects among the 21 involved in the case. Implicit has been the overriding anxiety to protect the palace in Riyadh. That evasive posture must now change dramatically with the statement of the Crown Prince to PBS’s Martin Smith. According to a preview of the documentary ~ “ It happened under my watch. I take all the responsibility, because it happened under my watch.”
The documentary, The Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia is scheduled to be aired on 1 October, a day before the first anniversary of Khashoggi’s death. His body has not been recovered, and the kingdom has remained silent on its whereabouts. The UN human rights expert, Agnes Callamard, who conducted an independent probe into the murder, has said in a report that the state of Saudi Arabia was responsible for the murder. The report also found “credible evidence” that linked MBS to the killing of Khashoggi. The rapporteur noted she had received no cooperation from Riyadh and minimal help from the US. More critical than a celluloid portrayal of the Crown Prince has been his statement owning up “full responsibility”. The domestic plot thickens beyond the geopolitical twists and turns.