At least some Saudi agents involved in the grisly murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi trained in the US as part of Washington’s broader plan to ‘modernize’ Saudi intelligence, a new report by the Washington Post says.
Members of the so-called Saudi Rapid Intervention Group, which was allegedly sent to the Istanbul consulate in October 2018 to deal with the self-exiled journalist and critic of the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, underwent training in America as part of a program launched under a State Department license, Washington Post columnist, David Ignatius, wrote, citing Saudi and US sources.
The CIA reportedly warned other government agencies that the special-operations training the Saudis might have received was conducted by Tier 1 Group, an Arkansas-based company as part of ongoing liaison with the Saudis.
The hit-team’s alleged leader, Colonel Maher Mutreb, is specifically said to be the one, who received the US training. Mutreb reportedly served in London as a deputy chief of station between 2002 and 2007, and was later repeatedly sent to the US and elsewhere for training, Ignatius said.
Mutreb himself reportedly told his friends in Saudi Arabia that he had gone to several training programs in the US over the past decade. Washington also planned to launch a broader training program for Saudis, which was developed by a private firm called Culpeper National Security Solutions with help from some former CIA officials.
One of the Saudi contacts, who was involved in the program development was Major General Ahmed al-Assiri, Riyadh’s deputy intelligence chief, who is now also under investigation over his alleged role in the Khashoggi killing. The Culpeper’s board was, meanwhile, led by Michael Morell, the former acting director of the CIA, who allegedly quit the project following the high-profile murder, according to Ignatius.
Khashoggi’s murder apparently disrupted Washington’s and Riyadh’s plans as the broad training program was put on hold, pending a State Department’s approval of a license. The US-Saudi exchange programs, which the hit team members participated in, were also allegedly stopped in the wake of the incident.