The remarkable life and disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi

Prince Turki Al Faisal of Saudi Arabia, who was the head of Saudi Arabia’s General Intelligence Directorate for 23 years, the equivalent of the CIA, and later was Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to London and Washington, visited the College of William and Mary in 2014. He spoke at an open forum and reflected on his vision of reshaping the Middle East.

I interviewed him for The Virginia Gazette. He reflected on his critical role in funding and arming the mujahideen in Afghanistan, helping them defeat and expel Soviet forces. However, he never mentioned that one of his close advisors was Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist who received an invitation from Osama Bin Laden to visit Afghanistan.

While in Afghanistan, Khashoggi wore a local dress and had his photo taken holding an assault rifle. He was suspected of spying for the Saudi government.

At the time of his visit to William and Mary, there was no reason for Prince Turki to mention that Khashoggi was close to him.

According to press reports, Khashoggi was last seen on Oct. 2 entering the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, where he intended to pick up a document needed for his wedding certificate. There, Turkish officials say, a team of Saudi agents waited in ambush. They interrogated and tortured Khashoggi and in the process killed him. His body was dismembered and taken out in boxes from the consulate building, according to the Turks.

But why was Khashoggi singled out for such a treatment by Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salam, the 33-year-old de-facto ruler of the oil-rich kingdom?

Intelligence experts noted that it is unimaginable that an operation like the killing of Khashoggi — in a foreign country — could have happened without authorization from the highest level.

Khashoggi was well connected in Saudi Arabia. He often traveled with the late King Abdullah and he was an advisor to Prince Alwaleed Talal, the billionaire investor. He was editor of the Saudi newspaper Al Watan.

But his tenure didn’t last long.

He had private affinity for democracy and political Islam, and was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood while serving the royal family.

In his commentaries, Khashoggi often applauded the moves the young Crown Prince made — things such as granting women the right to drive — but he was critical of the authoritarian way the prince wielded power. Soon, Saudi authorities forbade him to write or speak publicly.

Last year, Khashoggi chose self-exile in Washington, D.C., and began contributing columns to The Washington Post. According to a report in the Post, during Thanksgiving dinner last year someone asked him what he was thankful for. He said, “Because I have become free and I can write freely.”

It was a sentiment I fully shared with Khashoggi. It was 60 years ago, after my escape from Communist Czechoslovakia and at our first Thanksgiving dinner in America that I used the same words.

Alas, Khashoggi’s friends believe that it was one of his columns that compared the Crown Prince Mohammed to President Vladimir Putin of Russia that may have provoked the Saudi ruler to order Khashoggi’s elimination, one way or another.

The Washington Post also reported that representatives of the Crown Prince contacted Khashoggi repeatedly, asking him to tone down his criticism and invited him to come home. He refused. However, the person who might have been able to save him was Prince Turki Al Faisal; his word is still the coin of the realm.

Shatz is a Williamsburg resident. He is the author of “Reports from a Distant Place,” a compilation of his selected columns. The book is available at Bruton Parish Shop and Amazon.com.

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