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Saudi crown prince a 'red line' in Khashoggi murder probe, foreign minister says

Disparaging remarks against Mohammed bin Salman will not be tolerated, Adel al-Jubeir says
'Our leadership is a red line,' Saudi Arabia's foreign minister said on Wednesday (AFP)

Efforts to hold Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman accountable for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi constitute a "red line" for Saudi Arabia, the country's foreign minister has said.

Adel al-Jubeir said Riyadh would not tolerate any disparaging remarks about bin Salman, also known as MBS, or his father, King Salman.

"In Saudi Arabia our leadership is a red line. The custodian of the two holy mosques (King Salman) and the crown prince are a red line," Jubeir said in an interview with BBC television on Wednesday.

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"They represent every Saudi citizen and every Saudi citizen represents them. And we will not tolerate any discussion of anything that is disparaging towards our monarch or our crown prince."

Saudi leaders have been under mounting pressure to account for what happened to Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist and Washington Post columnist who was murdered inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on 2 October.

A critic of Saudi government policies, Khashoggi was killed and dismembered minutes after he entered the building, MEE previously reported.

While the Saudi authorities have repeatedly said the crown prince had no prior knowledge of the journalist's murder and its subsequent cover-up, the CIA said on Friday that it has concluded that MBS ordered Khashoggi's killing.

Trump stands by MBS

Despite the US intelligence agency's finding, and amid mounting pressure on Washington to re-evaluate its relationship with the Saudi government, Donald Trump has vowed to stand by his allies in Riyadh.

In a winding and often-incendiary written statement released Tuesday, the US president said MBS and King Salman deny any involvement in what happened.

"Our intelligence agencies continue to assess all information, but it could very well be that the crown prince had knowledge of this tragic event – maybe he did and maybe he didn’t!" Trump said.

"That being said, we may never know all of the facts surrounding the murder of Mr Jamal Khashoggi. In any case, our relationship is with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia," he said.

On Wednesday, Jubeir insisted that MBS was not involved in the killing.

"We have made that very clear. We have investigations ongoing and we will punish the individuals who are responsible for this," he said.

Echoing Jubeir's own statements, the Saudi foreign ministry has promoted the hashtag #TheKingAndCrownPrinceAreARedLine on social media this week.

Translation: The leadership of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, represented by the custodian of the two holy mosques and the crown prince, is a red line. We will not allow attempts to violate or abuse our leadership from anyone under any excuse; violating the leadership of the kingdom is a violation against every citizen.

'Rogue operation'

Jubeir also went on the offensive, calling on Turkey to come forward with all its evidence about the killing and to stop leaking out information.

Earlier this week, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said "whoever committed this crime should be brought to justice".

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also previously said the decision to kill Khashoggi came from the "highest levels" of the Saudi government, though he didn't accuse MBS of ordering the murder directly.

Jubeir described the murder as a "rogue operation" carried out by intelligence officers, and he said any possible US sanctions on Saudi Arabia would be short-sighted.

Saudi officials have arrested 21 people it says are connected to the crime, including two senior advisers to the crown prince, and said earlier this month that it intends to seek the death penalty for five suspects.

The US, for its part, has imposed sanctions on 17 Saudi citizens it says were involved in the murder, but critics say that doesn't go far enough.

"Sanctions will not fix this," Khashoggi's Washington Post editor, Karen Attiah, tweeted at the time, calling for an international investigation into what happened to the journalist.

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