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Saudi Arabia 'planned to spy on Khashoggi's fiancee in UK': Report

Guardian says US spy agencies asked UK counterparts to 'keep close eye' on Hatice Cengiz after Saudi plans were revealed
Jamal Khashoggi with his fiancee Hatice Cengiz (Courtesy Hatice Cengiz)

US intelligence agents urged their British counterparts to "keep a close eye" on Hatice Cengiz after they became aware of a plan by Saudi Arabia to spy on the fiancee of murdered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi when she visited the United Kingdom last year.

The Guardian newspaper reported on Friday that US officials believed Riyadh had the "ambition and intention" to monitor Cengiz in London last May, months after Khashoggi was killed inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

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"The Guardian's revelations about the effort by US and British authorities to ensure Cengiz was protected follows a report by Washington Post columnist David Ignatius that the US State Department recently rejected a proposal by a US defence company to train Saudi intelligence services," the paper said.

It added that the proposal was rejected because Saudi Arabia did not have "proper safeguards in place to prevent lawless covert operations" such as Khashoggi's killing.

The Guardian said the revelations "highlight the concerns of human rights activists" who allege Riyadh is using surveillance to "monitor and intimidate dissidents and critics of the kingdom".

The paper said it was not confirmed whether the surveillance of Cengiz was electronic or physical, or whether the plot was successful.

According to a 2015 directive that is known as the 'Duty to Warn,' US intelligence agencies are required under law to warn individuals if they are known to face an imminent risk of murder, kidnapping or serious bodily harm.

The obligation applies regardless of whether the person is a US citizen or not. 

MBS personally involved in phone hack

Khashoggi, who was a columnist for Middle East Eye and the Washington Post, before his murder had become a prominent critic of some policies of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS).

The CIA and some Western governments have said they believe MBS ordered the operation, an assertion Saudi officials have repeatedly denied.

Last month, a senior UN official told Middle East Eye that the individuals behind the murder must be identified, and the possible involvement of the crown prince must be investigated.

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"Who within the state commissioned the killing, incited the killing, failed to prevent the killing or created the conditions that made the made the killing possible?" said Agnes Callamard, the UN's special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions.

The Guardian's report comes just days after claims that a mobile phone belonging to Jeff Bezos, the billionaire owner of the Washington Post, was hacked after he received a WhatsApp message from the personal account of MBS.

Bezos had vowed to get to the bottom of how the National Enquirer tabloid had obtained private conversations and photos from his phone and published them early last year.

According to the Guardian, Bezos and MBS had a personal exchange on 1 May 2018, when the Amazon owner received a "malicious file" from the Saudi crown prince. 

It's unclear whether the alleged hack of Bezos's phone accessed any sensitive corporate information. Saudi Arabia has categorically denied the kingdom was involved in the hacking.

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