‘Saudi war on dissent reveals kingdom’s true nature’

            By Umar Farooq</p>  <p>WASHINGTON (AA) – Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s death was part of a broader operation to crack down on dissidents, which should shed any remaining illusions about the kingdom, The New York Times said Tuesday. </p>  <p>&quot;It comes as little surprise, sadly, that the Saudi thugs who slaughtered Jamal Khashoggi were a secret crew of enforcers for Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman,&quot; The Times' editorial board wrote in an opinion piece.</p>  <p>The team had been kidnapping, detaining and torturing Saudi dissidents for over a year before they traveled to Istanbul to murder the Washington Post columnist.</p>  <p>The team of enforcers is known as the “Saudi Rapid Intervention Group”, which carried out at least a dozen operations before the Khashoggi murder, U.S. intelligence officials told The Times.</p>  <p>The editorial board said that while this new information is not surprising, it serves to finally dispel the &quot;modernizing liberal&quot; image that bin Salman had been cultivating among Western leaders and shows the world that he is a &quot;despot who suppressed those who challenged his image and his power&quot;.</p>  <p>&quot;The revelation that the killing of Mr. Khashoggi was part of a systematic campaign against dissidents strips away any remaining illusions about Prince Mohammed,&quot; the editorial board wrote.</p>  <p>&quot;It was part of a systematic campaign to silence dissidents that was overseen by a top aide to Prince Mohammed, Saud al-Qahtani,&quot; it added.</p>  <p>Prisoners of Conscience, a Saudi group that tracks political prisoners, noted that more than 2,600 Saudi dissidents had been locked up in the kingdom while the crown prince was trying to brand himself as a reformer.</p>  <p>Khashoggi was killed shortly after he entered the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2.</p>  <p>Saudi Arabia initially denied any knowledge of his whereabouts but following a rising number of contradictions in its narrative sought to blame the journalist's death on a botched rendition operation being carried out by rogue agents.</p>  <p>While the CIA reportedly determined with high confidence in November that bin Salman ordered Khashoggi's killing, U.S. President Donald Trump shied away from placing any blame on the crown prince.</p>  <p>The Senate, however, demonstrated that they were willing to work to hold Saudi Arabia accountable, passing a resolution to end U.S. military support for the Saudi-led campaign in Yemen, which has caused a humanitarian crisis in the country.</p>  <p>&quot;Even if Mr. Trump insists on continuing to back this damaged and damaging prince, the president should be using his leverage to extract such concessions on human rights,&quot; the paper’s editorial board said.