It’s perhaps going to go down memory lane as the most covered murder of a prominent journalist. But in a deep analysis, The Investigator can reveal that perhaps Jamal Khashoggi who fell victim to his assassins wasn’t the first.
In new revelations, a Saudi source with intimate knowledge of his country’s intelligence services told Middle East Eye about a death squad that operates under the guidance and supervision of Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudi crown prince.
TheFirqat el-Nemr, or tiger squad, is well-known to the US intelligence services. It was formed more than a year ago and is comprised of 50 of the best-skilled intelligence and military operatives in the kingdom.
The group was recruited from different branches of the Saudi security services, channeling several areas of expertise. Its members are unflinchingly loyal to Riyadh’s young crown prince, commonly known as MBS.
According to the media reports, the Saudi source revealed that the Tiger squad has a belief that the arresting the critics of the Crown Prince and the ruling Saudi government will mount pressure on them, hence the focus to assassinate them quietly.
The Investigator has established that the tiger squad’s mission is to covertly assassinate Saudi dissidents, inside the kingdom and on foreign soil, in a way that goes unnoticed by the media, the international community and politicians, the source said.
The tiger squad’s assassination methods vary, sometimes it gets its hands dirty, such as with Khashoggi, who was tortured, murdered and dismembered by the tiger squad in Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul, Turkey on 2 October.
But the unit also plans assassinations that keep the victim at arm’s length, and are intended to appear as accidents, such as a car crash or house fire. The Tiger squad has even had a dissident injected with deadly viruses as he visited the hospital for a routine checkup, the source said.
The squad was named after Major General Ahmed al-Assiri, the deputy chief of Saudi intelligence, who was sacked by Riyadh last week after heavy international pressure on Saudi Arabia to take action over Khashoggi’s killing.
“Assiri is well-known among his colleagues as ‘the Tiger of the South’. Since the coalition’s war [on Yemen] the Saudi media also started calling Assiri ‘the Beast’, and he liked this nickname,” reported the Middle East Eye.
Ties to the crown prince
The source denied knowledge of who issues commands to the tiger squad but said that Assiri and Saoud al-Qahtani, one of MBS’s closest aides who was also dismissed last week, is part of the command structure.
The young crown prince selected five of the most loyal and trustworthy members of his personal security detail to serve in the tiger squad, the source said.
All of them are among the 15 men sent to kill Khashoggi, including Maher Abdulaziz Mutrib, Mohammed al-Zahrani, and Dhaar al-Harbi.
Mutrib is a diplomat and Major General who has been seen traveling with MBS earlier this year on tours of Boston, Houston and the United Nations in New York.
He was described by the Turkish News Papers as “the spinal cord of the tiger squad”. “He was chosen by MBS himself, who depends on him and is close to him.”
Turkey intercepted Mutrib’s calls
Revelations coming in from Turkish intelligence is that Mutrib’s 14 calls were intercepted 14 on 2 October, the day of Khashoggi’s death. Seven of these calls were to the office of the crown prince.
The source did not make it clear if Mutrib’s calls were related to Khashoggi’s killing but said that, if leaked, these calls would be “explosive”.
Mutrib and three others are believed to have injected Khashoggi with a deadly drug, before dismembering his body on a table inside the consulate. The Saudi government have already come out clear and acknowledged that Khashoggi died inside their consulate but after a fist fight.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan challenged the Saudis to prove he left the consulate unharmed during his routine address to Parliament on Tuesday. “If you say the person was killed inside your consulate, release the body,” he said
Erdogan described Khashoggi’s murder as “prior planned” and “a political murder’.
To re-affirm the Presidents assertions that the Khashoggi’s murder was planned, the Turkish intelligence has confirmed that the 28 local Turkish Saudi Embassy workers were told to stay home on the day Khashoggi disappeared. He had entered the Consulate to fill his remarriage papers on October 2, 2018.
The Turkish staff at Saudi consulate were told that the reason was an important diplomatic meeting in the building, security sources revealed.
Turkish daily newspaper Hurriyet reported on Monday night that voice recorders and cameras were put on all the consulate employees on 4 October and that some locks and keys to a couple of doors were changed in the consulate.
Now the body of Khashoggi has been recovered in the garden of consular generals’ home, it re-echoes intelligence reports that the killers who flew into Turkey in two private jets on October 2 and left on the same day, later in the night, carried nothing suspicious in their bags
An unidentified official told the New York Times that the Saudi operation was complex and took place two hours after Khashoggi entered the consulate. All 15 stayed in Turkey for only a few hours, according to the New York Times.
The Turkish newspaper, Sabah said the Saudi nationals arrived from Riyadh to Istanbul on two private jets with the tail numbers HZ SK1 and HZ SK2. Most of them stayed at the Wyndham Grand Hotel and Movenpick Hotel, which is close to the consulate.
Earlier killings by Tiger Squad revealed
One of the first covert operations the tiger squad carried out within Saudi borders was the killing of Prince Mansour bin Moqren, deputy governor of Asir province and son of a former crown prince, in November last year.
Prince Mansour, a known opponent of MBS, died when his helicopter crashed near the Saudi border with Yemen. The Middle East Eye reported at the time that the prince was trying to flee the country, and died a few hours after a sweeping purge of the kingdom’s upper ranks.
According to the source, Meshal Saad al-Bostani, a tiger squad operative and one of the 15 Saudis suspected of Khashoggi’s murder, was behind Prince Mansour’s death.
“Bostani is a lieutenant in the Saudi Royal Air Force, and he shot down Mansour’s helicopter with a missile from another helicopter,” the source said. “But they made it seems like a natural death.”
Bostani, 31, was reportedly killed in the Saudi Capital Riyadh on October 18 some 16 days after the Kashoggi was brutally murdered. But Saudi news outlets have reported that Bostani who holds the secret of the killing of deputy governor, Asir was actually locked in a prison and poisoned via food.
Another internal covert operation run by the tiger squad was the murder of the Mecca public court’s president, judge, and sheik Suliman Abdul Rahman al Thuniyan, in a hospital in Riyadh on 1 October.
Media reports indicated that he was killed by a deadly virus that was injected into his body during a normal medical checkup. The squad knew he had an appointment in the hospital, and made it appear a natural death. The judge had earlier sent a letter to MBS opposing his 2030 economic vision.
He added that one of the techniques the tiger squad uses to silence dissidents or opponents of the government is to “kill them with HIV, or other sorts of deadly viruses”.
Khashoggi’s murder was the first assassination the tiger squad carried out in a foreign country. However, it was not the death squad’s first attempt.
The Turkish press reported on Tuesday that as proof of the Khashoggi mission’s success, members of the tiger squad brought the Washington Post columnist’s fingers back to Riyadh and presented them to the young heir to the Saudi throne.
Names and pictures of 15 Khashoggi killers released
A pro-government Turkish newspapers (Sabah) on Tuesday published the names of 15 Saudi nationals suspected of involvement in the disappearance and alleged killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
The following is what is known about the 15 men and their movements on the day that Khashoggi went missing after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, according to Turkish media reports.
Sources close to the investigation confirmed the names of the 15 suspects.
Meshal Saad M Albost
Born 1987. Albost passed through passport control at Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport at 1.45 am local time on 2 October and checked in to the Wyndham Grand Hotel. He passed through passport control at 9.54 pm the same day, flying out of Istanbul on a private jet.
Salah Muhammad A Tubaigy
Born 1971. Arrived at Ataturk Airport at 3.38 am on a private jet and checked in to the Movenpick Hotel. He left Istanbul aboard a private jet at 8.29 pm the same day.
Naif Hassan S Alarifi
Born 1986. Arrived in Istanbul on a scheduled flight at 4.12 pm on 2 October and passed through passport control. Checked into the Wyndham Grand Hotel but left the city on a private at 9.45 pm.
Muhammed Saad H Alzahrani
Born 1988. Arrived on a scheduled flight at Ataturk Airport at 4.53 pm and passed through passport control before checking in to the Wyndham Grand Hotel. Passed through passport control again at 9.48 pm and left the city aboard a private jet.
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