Officials close to crown prince ‘wanted assassination of senior Iranians’

RIYADH: Top Saudi officials close to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman discussed assassinating senior Iranian officials, including notorious general Qassem Soleimani, The New York Times reported on Sunday.

The revelation came a little over a month after the killing of Saudi insider-turned-critic Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul on 2 October.

A year before Khashoggi murder, senior Saudi intelligence official met a group of businessmen with intelligence backgrounds in a March 2017 meeting in Riyadh and discussed a potential plan ‘to hire private operatives for assassination of “Iranian enemies of Saudi Arabia”.

The meeting also “pitched a $2 billion plan to use private intelligence operatives to sabotage the Iranian economy,” read the Times report released.

Ahmad al-Assiri, a right-hand man of the crown prince who have blamed for Khashoggi’s killing was also present in one of these meetings. Assiri has since been fired over his alleged role.

“The Saudis asked the businessmen whether they also ‘conducted kinetics’ – lethal operations – saying they were interested in killing senior Iranian officials.

The businessmen hesitated, saying they would need to consult their lawyer,” the report said.

“The lawyer flatly rejected the plan, and the businessmen told the Saudis they would not take part in any assassinations,” it added.

The New York Times report concluded that “top Saudi officials have considered assassinations like that of dissident journalist Khashoggi “since the beginning of Prince Mohammed’s ascent”.

“All the world has opened its eyes to what Riyadh is doing such as blockading Qatar, bombing Yemen, detaining the prime minister of Lebanon and the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi,” Iran Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tells London-based al-Araby al-Jadeed.