News & Politics

Was Jamal Khashoggi About to Expose Saudi Use of Chemical Weapons in Yemen?

Was Jamal Khashoggi About to Expose Saudi Use of Chemical Weapons in Yemen?
Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi speaks on his cellphone at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

Sources close to murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi are saying that it’s possible he was killed because he was about to reveal Saudi Arabian use of chemical weapons in Yemen. The Sunday Express story also says that British intelligence knew that Khashoggi would be kidnapped when he walked into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul and tried to warn off Saudi intelligence — to no avail.

Last night a close friend of Mr Khashoggi revealed that he was about to obtain “documentary evidence” proving clams that Saudi Arabia had used chemical weapons in its proxy war in Yemen.

“I met him a week before his death. He was unhappy and he was worried,“ said the middle eastern academic, who did not wish to be named.

“When I asked him why he was worried, he didn’t really want to reply, but eventually he told me he was getting proof that Saudi Arabia had used chemical weapons. He said he hoped he be getting documentary evidence.

“All I can tell you is that the next thing I heard, he was missing.”

While there have been recent unsubstantiated claims in Iran that Saudi Arabia has been supplying ingredients that can be used to produce the nerve agent Sarin in Yemen, it is more likely that Mr Khashoggi was referring to phospherous.

Khashoggi was, at one time, a consultant to Saudi intelligence and is generally believed to have been a regime insider. It’s seems plausible that, if anyone could get his hand on documents exposing Saudi use of white phosphorus against civilians, it would be Khashoggi.

There are many military uses for phosphorus but it is against international conventions to use it as a weapon against the innocent. It’s just one of the charges of war crimes in Yemen against the Saudi regime.

On the other hand, there are no reliable reports of sarin gas or any other toxic agents being used in Yemen.

The Washington Post reported in 2016 on the use by Saudi Arabia of U.S.-supplied white phosphurus so it’s not clear just what Khashoggi would have been exposing if he, indeed, was about to obtain documentary evidence.

But the idea that British intelligence would have been aware of the plot against Khashoggi raises the question of why the the journalist wasn’t warned.

“The misleading image that has been created of Jamal Khashoggi covers up more than it reveals. As an insider to the Saudi regime, Khashoggi had also been close to the former head of the intelligence agency.He was an Islamist, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, and someone who befriended Osama Bin Laden and had been sympathetic to his Jihad in Afghanistan,” said Tom Wilson of the Henry Jackson Society think tank.

Speaking last night the intelligence source told the Sunday Express: “We were initially made aware that something was going in the first week of September, around three weeks before Mr Khashoggi walked into the consulate on October 2, though it took more time for other details to emerge.

“These details included primary orders to capture Mr Khashoggi and bring him back to Saudi Arabia for questioning. However, the door seemed to be left open for alternative remedies to what was seen as a big problem.

“We know the orders came from a member of the royal circle but have no direct information to link them to Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman.

“Whether this meant he was not the original issuer we cannot say.”

Crucially, the highly-placed source confirms that MI6 had warned his Saudi Arabian counterparts to cancel the mission – though this request as ignored.

“On October 1 we became aware of the movement of a group, which included members of Ri’āsat Al-Istikhbārāt Al-‘Āmah (GID) to Istanbul, and it was pretty clear what their aim was.

“Through channels we warned that this was not a good idea. Subsequent events show that our warning was ignored.”

Asked why MI6 had not alerted its Five Eye intelligence partner, the US (Khashoggi was a US citizen) the source said only: “A decision was taken that we’d done what we could.”

This, too, seems plausible. As ruthless as the Saudis are, it seems a dangerous move to murder a dissident on foreign soil.  Better to bring him home, torture him to reveal his sources inside the government, and then execute him in private.

With all the domestic news this week and the midterms coming up the following week, America has temporarily turned its attention to other matters. But the pressure is hardly off the Saudis and before too long, there will be a reckoning in Congress over Saudi Arabia’s killing of a dissident journalist.