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Saudi leader says he was implicated in Khashoggi killing 'because it happened under my watch'

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis meets with Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at the Pentagon in Arlington, Va., March 22, 2018.

KATHRYN HOLM/U.S. NAVY

By RUBY MELLEN | The Washington Post | Published: September 26, 2019

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said he gets "all the responsibility" for the killing of royal court critic and Washington Post contributing columnist Jamal Khashoggi but denied he had any prior knowledge of the plan to kill the journalist, according to a soon to air PBS Frontline documentary.

"It happened under my watch," Mohammed told Frontline's Martin Smith in December, according to a trailer for the upcoming documentary. "I get all the responsibility because it happened under my watch."

Mohammed, the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia, has gone to great lengths to distance himself from the slaying of Khashoggi. The CIA has concluded with high confidence that the crown prince ordered Khashoggi's assassination.

On Oct. 2 last year, Khashoggi, an outspoken critic of Mohammed, entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to obtain the documents needed to marry his Turkish fiancee. There, he was killed and dismembered by a team of 15 Saudi agents who had flown to Istanbul on a government plane, according to Turkish and Saudi prosecutors.

A CIA report released in November concluded that Mohammed likely ordered the assassination because of Khashoggi's highly visible criticism of the crown prince. Saudi officials deny that, saying the agents, one of whom was an autopsy expert, defied orders to bring Khashoggi back to Saudi Arabia alive.

When Mohammed, 34, emerged on the world stage, some Western leaders, commentators and investors considered him a progressive force that would liberalize and open up the oil-rich kingdom that was under strict authoritarian rule. Khashoggi's death and it's eventual link back to Mohammed damaged the prince's glossy international reputation.

In June, United Nations Special Rapporteur Agnes Callamard, appointed by the U.N. Human Rights Council, said the killing was an international crime.

While the U.S. Senate has rebuked the kingdom for the killing, President Donald Trump has defended Mohammed and said Khashoggi's assassination should not interfere with America's economic and strategic ties to Saudi Arabia.

Eleven Saudi suspects are on trial for Khashoggi's slaying, though transparency surrounding those court proceedings remains murky.

The trailer for the PBS documentary, called "The Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia" and set to air on Oct. 1, contains no footage or direct audio of Mohammed speaking. In the video, Smith narrates that he tracks down Mohammed at an electric car race two month's after Khashoggi's death.

He asks how the killing could happen without Mohammed knowing about it.

"We have 20 million people. We have 3 million government employees," Mohammed responded, Smith said.

Smith then asked the prince how the agents were able to travel to Istanbul on one of his government planes.

"I have officials, ministers to follow things, and they're responsible. They have the authority to do that," Smith quotes Mohammed saying.

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