The rulers of Saudi Arabia are considering blaming a top intelligence official close to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the Washington Post reported.
The plan to assign blame to Maj. Gen. Ahmed al-Assiri, a high-ranking adviser to the crown prince, would be an extraordinary recognition of the magnitude of international backlash to hit the kingdom since the disappearance of Khashoggi, a prominent Saudi dissident, it said.
A resident of Virginia and contributor to The Washington Post, Khashoggi was last seen entering the Saudi Consulate here on October 2. The Post based its report after speaking to three people with knowledge of the Saudi plans.
Blaming Gen. Assiri could also provide a plausible explanation for the apparent killing and help deflect blame from the crown prince, who American intelligence agencies are increasingly convinced was behind Khashoggi's disappearance, the daily said.
Turkish officials have said they possess evidence showing that 15 Saudi agents assassinated and dismembered Khashoggi in the consulate.
After two weeks of blanket denials and mounting pressure from Turkey and Washington, Saudi Arabia said it would conduct its own investigation to determine who was responsible, the Post said.
But even with the investigation still ostensibly underway, the Saudis are already pointing to Gen. Assiri as the culprit, it said.
Whether that move will be enough to calm the international crisis and what it may mean for Prince Mohammed, the kingdom's day-to-day ruler, remain to be seen, the Post said.
Gen. Assiri, who previously served as the spokesman for the Saudi-led military intervention in Yemen, is close enough to the crown prince to have easy access to his ear and has considerable authority to enlist lower-ranking personnel in a mission.
The Saudi rulers are expected to say that Gen. Assiri received oral authorization from Prince Mohammed to capture Khashoggi for an interrogation in Saudi Arabia, but either misunderstood his instructions or overstepped that authorization and took the dissident's life, according to two of the people familiar with the Saudi plans, the Post said.
"Even in this scenario, however, Prince Mohammed would still have ordered an operation to abduct a resident of the US, apparently only on the basis of his public criticism of Saudi leaders," it said.