Twitter pulls pro-Saudi bots amid Khashoggi case

By Michael Hernandez

WASHINGTON (AA) – Twitter has removed a network of suspected pro-Saudi Arabian bots that sought to spread the Kingdom's narrative regarding the disappearance of missing Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.

The microblogging website took action Thursday after NBC News notified it of hundreds of accounts that spread the same pro-Saudi government tweets simultaneously. The list NBC provided was compiled by Indiana-based information technologies specialist Josh Russell, that the news network said previously exposed similar influence campaigns on Reddit and Twitter.

Twitter told NBC it was aware of the alleged Saudi campaign, and had suspended even more accounts than it was informed of.

Some of the bots that were suspended tweeted using a hashtag that trended Sunday, which roughly translated to “#We_all_trust_Mohammad_Bin_Salman.”

Suspicion has grown that bin Salman, the Saudi crown prince, ordered the assassination of Khashoggi who has not been seen since he entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2.

The source of the bot network is not immediately clear, according to NBC.

On the day of his disappearance, 15 other Saudis, including several officials, arrived in Istanbul on two planes and visited the consulate while Khashoggi was still inside, according to Turkish police sources. All of the identified individuals have since left Turkey.

On Wednesday, crime scene investigation units arrived at the official residence of Saudi Consul General Mohammad al-Otaibi around 4.40 p.m. local time (1340GMT). Al-Otaibi had left Turkey for Riyadh on Tuesday.

Officials from a joint Turkish-Saudi team completed an investigation into the case early Thursday after searching the residence as well as the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.