DER SPIEGEL: How do you explain that Mohammed bin Salman apparently gave the order to murder one of his fiercest critics and to dismember him afterwards?
Soufan: The case is still evolving, and we do not know all the facts of what exactly happened to Jamal Khashoggi. However, based on public reports, and on what President Trump just announced, he has apparently been killed. Why would MBS order Jamal’s killing? Now, we are getting into the head of dictators and authoritarians. What made Putin decide to kill critics in the middle of London? MBS wanted to send a message. And this message is: If you oppose me I will get you whoever you are, wherever you are. He wanted it as brutal as it was to send a message. He thought he would get away with it.
DER SPIEGEL: But why did Jamal Khashoggi represent a threat to him?
Soufan: Unlike other Saudi opposition figures abroad, Khashoggi is a product of the regime. He is not an opposition figure. He worked for the Saudi leadership, even worked with Prince Tuki al-Faisal, who at one point oversaw Saudi intelligence. He was the PR man for the House of Saud and for the Kingdom. He truly loved Saudi Arabia. He knew the system from the inside. He had big credibility both in Saudi Arabia and in the West. He was respected by Western media and by many in the the House of Saud. However, he did not believe in MBS’ reckless ways and he was vocal about his criticisms, both in person and in his Washington Post columns. Someone like Jamal is threatening to someone like MBS.
DER SPIEGEL: It is also said that Khashoggi had special knowledge relating to potential Saudi involvement in the 9/11 attacks.
Soufan: I do not think this is connected to 9/11. There was already information concerning Saudi Arabia’s alleged role published, beyond the 9/11 commission report, such as the 28 pages, including motions and affidavits, submitted in lawsuits against the Kingdom by the families of the victims. You don’t have to kill somebody for that.
DER SPIEGEL: What will be the long-term political consequences?
Soufan: If it is proven that MBS ordered the murder, the damage will be significant. His credibility on the world stage will be lost. MBS flushed down all the millions of dollars spent on PR firms and lobbying groups to craft his image as a reformer. And as Senator Lindsay Graham said, as long as MBS is still there, the relationship between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia will never be the same. We have a structural relationship with Saudi Arabia, the Kingdom is important for our national security as we are important to theirs. Yet, if it’s true that Jamal was murdered and dismembered by an order from the crown prince, that relationship will never be the same.
DER SPIEGEL: That means, the king will have to distance himself from his son?
Soufan: The king then needs to decide: Does he want to secure the stability of the House of Saud and the Kingdom or does he want to secure the future of his son? Unfortunately, I do not think the king can have it both ways. Again, that is if MBS indeed ordered the murder of Khashoggi.
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