On Friday, the US sanctioned Saudi officials over the 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi after the release of a US intelligence report that said Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, known as MBS, ordered the killing. Although MBS, the de facto leader of Saudi Arabia, was absent from the list of blacklisted Saudis.
In response to the report, the State Department announced a new visa restriction called the “Khashoggi Ban.” The ban allows the US to impose visa restrictions on individuals who engage in “extraterritorial counter-dissident activities” against journalists or activists. Khashoggi was killed inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
The first Khashoggi Ban restrictions were implemented on 76 Saudis. The State Department described them as “individuals believed to have been engaged in threatening dissidents overseas, including but not limited to the Khashoggi killing.”
The Treasury Department also announced sanctions on Saudi operatives believed to be responsible for Khashoggi’s death. The measures targeted members of Saudi Arabia’s Rapid Intervention Force that were sent to kill Khashoggi.
The Treasury Department also targeted Ahmad Hassan Mohammed al Asiri, the former deputy head of Saudi Arabia’s General Intelligence Presidency, who the US says was assigned to carry out the Khashoggi hit.
The Biden administration is facing calls from Congress to take action against MBS for the killing. A Biden administration official told Politico that the White House decided against sanctioning MBS, fearing that it would put the US in an extremely “hostile” position with Saudi Arabia.
For their part, Saudi Arabia said it “completely rejects” the US intelligence assessment. Riyadh’s story has been that Khashoggi was killed by rogue operatives and that MBS had no knowledge of the plan.
The Biden administration has said it will reevaluate the US-Saudi relationship. Besides the sanctions, President Biden has also announced an end to US support for Saudi Arabia’s “offensive” operations in Yemen. The US suspended some Saudi arms sales, and a report from Reuters on Friday said the administration is considering stopping sales for “defensive” weapons as well.