At least three members of a Saudi squad convicted by the kingdom for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi live and work “in seven-star accommodation” inside a government-run security complex in Riyadh, a linked source says to senior Saudi intelligence officials.
The assassins are said to be housed in villas and buildings run by Saudi Arabia’s state security agency, far from the walls of its infamous prisons. The source spoke to two witnesses who claim to have seen the men. They said family members frequently visit the men, who can use a gym and work spaces at the site.
All were sentenced in a Saudi court, in a trial widely condemned as a sham – although only one of them, Salah al-Tubaigy – was named. Some received death sentences, which were later commuted to life imprisonment.
The observations cast further doubt on Riyadh’s claims that the killers are held to account and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s most trusted adviser, Saud al-Qahtani, has reappeared in the royal court after three years in secrecy. Qahtani was acquitted of all involvement, despite an assessment by Western intelligence that he organized the assassination at the behest of Prince Mohammed.
The source confirmed that Tubaigy, the medical examiner who dismembered Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, was among those seen inside the facility. Mustafa al-Madani, the body sent in duplicate by the hitman team to create the ruse that Khashoggi left the consulate alive, was also seen, as was Mansour Abahussein, who is accused of leading the operation.
The two witnesses have visited the complex on several occasions over the past two years. They say the men were relaxed and appeared to be performing normal tasks. Visitors, including caterers, gardeners, technicians and family members, frequent the compound frequently, according to the intelligence source.
The sightings of Tubaigy, Abahussein and Madani took place in late 2019 and around mid-2020. Witnesses did not want to publicly disclose their names for fear of reprisals from Prince Mohammed and state security, which has the heavy hand in Saudi Arabia. Abahussein and Madani are known to be intelligence agents employed by state security. Their boss, Abdul Aziz bin Mohammed Al-Howairini, was seen with some of the defendants and is often seen using the compound’s gymnasium.
In December 2019, after a procedure shrouded in secrecy, a Saudi court acquitted three defendants; sentenced five others to death; and five others to prison terms. The five men on death row were not organizers and were eventually legally pardoned in May 2020 by Khashoggi’s children as part of an arrangement brokered by Prince Mohammed.
Little has been revealed, so far, about the fate of the main players in the plot. But their apparent presence in a modern and well-equipped intelligence complex, where they enjoy freedom of movement, is in flagrant contradiction with assurances from the Saudi royal court that the perpetrators face stiff penalties.
The revelations come as mystery continues to surround the identity of a man arrested by French police this month, who was initially identified as a member of a secondary team of Khashoggi assassins. Khaled Aedh al-Otaibi was arrested at Charles de Gaulle airport on December 7 on the basis of a warrant issued by Turkey.
Police later said the arrest was a case of mistaken identity. However, Turkish officials believe France may have captured the right man and released him for political reasons.
A well-placed source confirmed to the Guardian that Turkish officials had reported their concerns, saying the data they provided to Interpol matched what French police initially sent them.
Prince Mohammed is known to be anxious to prevent further details of the assassination from being made public – a scenario that would have been likely had one of the killers been extradited to Turkey and tried in open court.
French President Emmanuel Macron was received by Prince Mohammed in Jeddah earlier this month during a Western leader’s first visit to Saudi Arabia since the scandal erupted in October 2018. In return, Macron had insisted that the Saudi de facto leader receives a call from Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati, potentially paving the way for Riyadh to send aid to the bankrupt country.
In the days following France’s release of the arrested man, the language used by Saudi and Gulf officials towards Lebanon has softened considerably.