A New York Times investigation cites senior US officials. The Saudi Rapid Intervention Group has ostensibly carried out several clandestine operations since 2017. Saudi leaders have not responded to the allegations. “We’ve never seen it on a scale like this,” an expert says.
Washington (AsiaNews) – Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) authorised the creation of a special (secret) squad to suppress dissent in the country through surveillance, abductions and torture of individuals deemed "hostile" by Saudi leaders, this according to a New York Times investigation citing senior US officials with access to classified intelligence reports.
The campaign against dissent began a year before the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was killed on 2 October 2018 in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
US officials refer to the squad as the Saudi Rapid Intervention Group. The squad that killed and dismembered Khashoggi also carried out other clandestine missions.
As recently indicated by United Nations sources, the murder of the Saudi journalist, a critic of the Saudi regime and the crown prince, was part of a broader campaign to suppress dissent.
The accusations made by senior US officials, anonymous for security reasons, are backed by relatives and friends of the victims.
The Khashoggi murder has provoked global outrage and condemnations. US senators have called on US President Donald Trump to identify and punish those responsible.
Although suspicions have fallen on MbS and his close circle of loyalists, Trump has done nothing so far, clearing MbS of any involvement to protect the alliance with the Saudis.
For its part, Riyadh has consistently denied any responsibility of MBS, blaming unspecified rogue elements. So far, 11 people are facing charges in Saudi Arabia in connection with Khashoggi’s death, but little is known of their trial.
The intervention group has been accused, among other things, of detaining, abducting and abusing leading activists currently on trial.
According to sources, the squad was so busy that its leader asked MbS for bonuses during Eid al-Fitr, the Muslim festival that marks the end of Ramadan (the holy month of fasting and prayer).
Saudi officials declined to confirm or deny that such a team existed, nor comment the New York Times investigation.
For the US newspaper, MbS approved the creation of the special intervention group overseen by Saud al-Qahtani, an MbS loyalist.
Since its creation, the squad has arrested dozens of religious leaders, intellectuals and activists perceived as a "threat" to the Saudi leadership.
“We’ve never seen it on a scale like this,” said Bruce Riedel, a former CIA analyst now with the Brookings Institution. “A dissident like Jamal Khashoggi in the past wouldn’t have been considered worth the effort.”