Called the “Saudi Rapid Intervention Group” by American spies, the campaign to silence dissidents was authorized by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to deal with cases such as that of Jamal Khashoggi.
Involved in the death of the dissident journalist, the group engages in surveillance, kidnapping, detention and torture of Saudi citizens, American officials, who have read classified intelligence reports about the campaign, told the New York Times, according to a Sunday report.
The Washington Post journalist was last seen entering the Saudi mission in Istanbul on October 2, 2018 before being killed and dismembered and reportedly burned out at the home of the Saudi consul.
The team has been engaged in a dozen operations since 2017, including surveillance, kidnapping, detention and torture.
The operations also involved “forcibly repatriating Saudis from other Arab countries and detaining and abusing prisoners in palaces belonging to the crown prince and his father, King Salman,” read the report.
One of the victims, a university lecturer in linguistics writing about the dire situation of women living under the monarchy, tried to commit suicide out of pressure due to psychological torture.
The team members asked MBS last June to give them bonuses on the occasion of Eid al-Fitr, given how “busy” they have been.
The monarchy “takes any allegations of ill treatment of defendants awaiting trial or prisoners serving their sentences very seriously,” claimed a spokesman for the Saudi embassy in Washington.
Publicizing he group could be part of an attempt to exonerate the country’s de facto ruler by claiming that the group acted on its own rather than getting a direct order to assassinated the US-based journalist.
Since Khashoggi’s death, Saudis are reportedly rounding up dissidents.
“We’ve never seen it on a scale like this,” said Bruce Riedel, a former CIA analyst now with the Brookings Institution. “A dissident like Jamal Khashoggi in the past wouldn’t have been considered worth the effort.”
He added that the group’s sloppiness indicates it was used to acting freely inside Saudi Arabia under authorization of bin Salman and supervision of Saud al-Qahtani and his deputy, Maher Abdulaziz Mutreb.
MBS has not been held accountable for the assassination and dismemberment of Khashoggi with a bone saw and enjoys the backing of US President Donald Trump.