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'NYT' Investigation Links Crown Prince To Those Accused Of Journalist's Killing


How much of the blame for whatever happened to Jamal Khashoggi should land at the feet of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman? This is a key question in the disappearance - it appears the likely murder - of the dissident Saudi journalist. Turkish officials have identified 15 men who they say were present at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul the day that Khashoggi disappeared. The New York Times has now linked several of those men to bin Salman's security detail and to bin Salman himself.

Malachy Browne is one of the journalists on that Times story. He joins me now. And I should warn listeners some of the details that we may be about to discuss may be grim. Malachy Browne, welcome.

MALACHY BROWNE: Thank you, Mary Louise.

KELLY: Lay out first how you made these links. You were combing through publicly available records, also combing through photographs, doing - what? - just trying to match face-to-face.

BROWNE: Yeah. We were doing that - matching names, trying to find social media profiles, finding email addresses and phone numbers that were related to these people through phone databases that allow us to see how their phone numbers are saved in various different apps and then, you know, link - using those email addresses and phone records, finding social profiles that are registered using those numbers and addresses, looking at the biographical details that are - that those people shared.

And then we also - you know, we had information that several of the men were in the royal guard. And so we retraced Mohammed bin Salman's movements over the past year or two and, yeah - and scanned, like, lots of archival reports.

KELLY: Lots of archival reports and lots of archival photos - you published several of those photos of 1 of the 15 men who appears to be a frequent travel companion of the crown prince. Who is he?

BROWNE: That's right - Maher Mutreb. I mean, he's - he worked in London in 2007 as an intelligence officer for the ambassador there. We understand from WikiLeaks, information published by The Washington Post as well, that he went - underwent training as an intelligence officer and as a security officer. And he is...

KELLY: And he's been photographed at the prince's side on visits this year to the U.S. to Houston, to Boston, to the U.N. General Assembly. I mean, that was just three weeks ago.

BROWNE: That's right. I mean, he's on his shoulder at all of these places as, you know, the crown prince is going on this tour of the U.S., courting business and government leaders. And, yeah, he's there disembarking the airplane with him. He's sitting in the - or standing in the United Nations. He's in Houston in a neighborhood that was devastated by floods, as the Saudis...

KELLY: There's no denying these two know each other is what you're telling me.

BROWNE: Absolutely no denying. Yeah, they're...

KELLY: You've also...

BROWNE: ...Very close.

KELLY: Yeah, you've also identified a forensic doctor who specializes in autopsies. This is another person who Turkish officials say was part of this hit squad. The presence of a forensic doctor who specializes in autopsies - that would make it awfully hard to deny that there was lethal intent from the beginning of this operation, right?

BROWNE: At least medical supervision for whatever was about to unfold. I mean, the connections of several of these guys, including this doctor who works at a really high level in the ministry - the interior ministry - you know, it's hard to dispel that this was anything but a premeditated interception of Mr. Khashoggi. And the links to the highest levels of government are evidenced when we, you know, piece all of the information that we have on these 15 men together.

KELLY: As you have gone through and try to piece - tried to piece this information together, are you confident that you have established a direct link between the 15 men who the Turks say were at the consulate that day and the crown prince of Saudi Arabia?

BROWNE: There's no question that he knows some of those men given his close relationship to them. The Post also named a second member of the detail who we have information for that corroborates that. And, you know, the fact that there are so many senior-level government officials involved in that journey, you know, and that they went in on government-chartered planes just makes it look like it's - just that it's orchestrated.

KELLY: Malachy Browne - he's a writer for The New York Times. Thanks so much.

BROWNE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.