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King’s bodyguard killed over Khashoggi’s assassination?

New studies have surfaced in internet press pointing to a probable connection between the latest killing of Saudi King Salman’s private secretary and last year’s gruesome assassination by a Saudi strike team of dissident reporter Jamal Khashoggi.

Major General Abdul Aziz al-Fagham, 47, was shot dead by a close friend named Mamdouh bin Meshaal al-Ali during a melee defined by Saudi police as a “private conflict” in a friend’s residence in Jeddah’s western town on Saturday evening, according to the formal study published by Saudi officials. He collapsed a day later to his injuries.

The shooter refused to surrender to the security forces that had surrounded the site and shot him dead, the police statement further said, adding that another Saudi, a Filipino, and five security forces members also sustained gunfire injuries.

The British tabloid newspaper The Sun speculated in a Monday article that al-Fagham, who had served former Saudi King Abdullah since 2002 and incumbent King Salman since 2015 as a protection officer, “may have had explosive dirt on Jamal Khashoggi’s killers” before being shot dead in the suspicious gunfight.

Khashoggi, a former Saudi royal court advocate who later became a critic of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was killed after being lured to Istanbul’s Saudi Consulate on 2 October 2018, and his body was dismembered by a Saudi hit squad.

It is thought that the gruesome murder was straight ordered by the crown prince, who is also recognized as MbS and considered the Arab Kingdom’s de facto leader. However, the Saudi govt argues that a “rogue” team murdered the ill-fated journey, refusing that the slaying had been ordered by the crown prince.

The report by the The Sun further speculated that al-Fagham, who was affectionately known as the king’s “walking stick” by the royal court insiders, had allegedly been recently relieved of his post with rumors circulating that he might have had vital information on Khashoggi’s assassination.

Al-Fagham was the head of the royal palace’s guards that murdered the dissident journalist.

In a related development and in a report on Sunday, the New York Times, citing an unnamed person familiar with the case, said it was not yet clear what had motivated the shooter to kill his friend, al-Fagham, but around the time of the killing “Saudi officials reached out to regional intelligence sources to ask for urgent help in gathering and analyzing information about a number of Saudi citizens.”

The report further quoted the individual as saying that the push for information came from King Salman and MbS. However, it was not yet fully known who the Saudi leaders were seeking information about and whether that effort might have been related to the shooting of al-Fagham.

Speaking to CBS’s 60 Minutes on Sunday, Crown Prince Mohammed attempted to portray himself as not having been involved in the brutal murder, and while denying an ability to keep an eye on everything, said he “took full responsibility as a leader in Saudi Arabia” for Khashoggi’s murder “because it happened under my watch.”

UN expert raps Saudi crown prince over Khashoggi remarks

In another development on Monday, Agnes Callamard, a United Nations special rapporteur who conducted an investigation into Khashoggi’s murder, lambasted MbS for trying to create a “distance” between himself and the gruesome execution.

Callamard, whose independent investigation into Khashoggi’s execution found “credible evidence” linking MbS to the murder and an attempted cover-up, strongly dismissed the crown prince’s defense as “problematic.”

“He is only taking corporate responsibility for the crime, which goes without saying,” Callamard said, condemning the crown prince for taking “no personal responsibility for the crime.”

“He is creating huge distance between himself and the crime” by arguing that he cannot be personally held responsible for the conduct of all Saudi government employees, the UN official further said.

Callamard also said that the interview, which contains Prince Mohammed’s first public remarks on the matter, appeared to mark a concession by the de facto ruler that “the killing of Mr. Khashoggi was a state killing,” hence, a rejection of the Saudi government’s previous explanation that the responsibility for the execution lay with “rogue” agents. 

“For the last 12 months, the Saudi state, their various representatives and (MbS) included have been lying to the international community regarding the nature of the crime. So now we are supposed to take his word that, yes, he has a corporate responsibility but he has no personal responsibility?” Callamard asked, adding, “Not good enough.”

The Washington Post, for which Khashoggi was a columnist, reported in November last year that the CIA had concluded that Mohammed ordered his killing. Furthermore, an investigative team led by the United Nations (UN) also said that it believed MBS was the prime suspect in the state-sponsored murder. Washington has refused to formally implicate Mohammed, however.

Until now, and despite the international attention that the state-sponsored murder has continuously received, 34-year-old Mohammed had refused to speak about his role in the killing.

With all evidence pointing to him for direct involvement, his acceptance of general responsibility for the murder is seen as an attempt — even if belated — at looking like a political leader answerable on important matters.

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