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Jamal Khashoggi: Saudi Arabia announces plans to reform security agencies

Reforms to the intelligence agencies will be overseen by Mohammed bin Salman, who has denied accusations of ordering the killing of Khashoggi
Western allies have called on Riyadh to hold those responsible for the murder accountable (AFP)

Saudi Arabia announced on Thursday plans to create new government bodies to improve the country's intelligence operations which have come under intenses scrutiny internationally following the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. 

King Salman ordered a restructuring of the intelligence service in October after the authorities, following initial denials, acknowledged that Khashoggi had been killed inside the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate by a team of Saudi intelligence and security agents.

Saudi officials have said, without providing proof, that the 15-man team was put together by the deputy head of the General Intelligence Directorate, Ahmed al-Asiri, whom the king fired along with royal adviser Saud al-Qahtani.

In October, an intelligence source told Middle East Eye that the 15-man team, dubbed the Tiger Squad, is well-known to the US intelligence services and was formed more than a year ago. 

Although MEE was not able to confirm the information disclosed, the source was independently verified. They said the squad was tasked with covertly assassinating Saudi dissidents inside the kingdom and on foreign soil. 

The new government departments - for strategy and development, legal affairs, and performance evaluation and internal review - are meant to ensure that intelligence operations align with national security policy, international law and human rights treaties, state news agency SPA reported.

They were created by a committee headed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom’s defence minister. He has denied accusations of ordering the hit against Khashoggi, a royal insider who became a critic of the crown prince.

Western allies have called on Riyadh to hold those responsible for the murder accountable. The Saudi public prosecutor is seeking the death penalty for five suspects, as the kingdom tries to contain its biggest political crisis for a generation.

The US Senate last week blamed Mohammed bin Salman for the murder, in a rare rebuke to President Donald Trump, who has said he wants Washington to stand by the 33-year-old de facto leader, despite a CIA assessment it was likely he ordered the killing.

The vote last Thursday, however, was largely symbolic. 

To become law, they would need to pass the House of Representatives, whose Republican leaders have blocked any legislation intended to rebuke the Saudis.