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Saudi King Salman hosts CIA chief Haspel after Twitter charges

Haspel's visit comes after US court charged three people, including two Saudis, with spying on Twitter users critical of kingdom's royal family
CIA chief Gina Haspel discussed 'a number of topics of mutual interest' with the Saudi king on Thursday in Riyadh (AFP/file photo)

Saudi Arabia's King Salman hosted the Central Intelligence Agency's director on Thursday, state media said, after three people were charged in the United States with spying on Twitter users critical of the royal family.

The king and Gina Haspel "discussed a number of topics of mutual interest", the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA) said, without offering further details on the discussions, according to AFP.

SPA said the meeting in Riyadh was also attended by the Saudi foreign and interior ministers as well as the US ambassador to the kingdom, Reuters reported.

Haspel's visit comes after a US court on Wednesday charged three people, including two Saudis, with spying on Twitter users critical of the kingdom's royal family.

A senior Saudi official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that the kingdom had not yet looked at the criminal complaint.

"But what I can tell you is that we expect all our citizens to abide by the laws of the countries in which they live," the official told reporters in Washington. 

It was the first time the Justice Department has publicly accused the Saudis of spying inside the US, the Washington Examiner said.

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The trio - including two former Twitter employees - allegedly worked to unmask the ownership details behind dissident Twitter accounts on behalf of someone prosecutors designated "Royal Family Member-1".

The Washington Post reported the latter to be Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom's de facto ruler.

Ties between firm allies Washington and Riyadh have been strained over the brutal murder last year of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

A critic of the crown prince, Khashoggi was killed and dismembered by Saudi agents inside the kingdom's consulate in Istanbul.

The CIA has reportedly concluded that the prince himself was closely linked to the murder, a charge vigorously denied by Riyadh.

The Saudi official said that President Donald Trump's administration was aware that "Saudi Arabia is taking steps to deal with this issue".

"I think people are recognising that a trial is underway, recognising that it was a mistake, that should not have happened," he said of Khashoggi's killing.

Still, Agnes Callamard, UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, said earlier in a report that she doubted whether justice would be delivered.

"The trial is held behind closed doors; the identity of those charged has not been released nor is the identity of those facing death penalty," she wrote.