Citing three people familiar with the discussions, The New York Times reported that senior Saudi intelligence officials had inquired about the possibility of killing Iranian ‘enemies’ using private companies. Saudi authorities haven’t commented on the media outlet’s claims so far.
As The New York Times claims, referring to three sources with knowledge of the matter, Saudi intelligence officials met with a group of businessmen in March 2017 to discuss a $2 billion plan to use private intelligence operatives in a bid to undermine Iran’s economy.
In the course of the alleged discussion, an aide to Maj. Gen. Ahmed al-Assiri, a senior adviser to Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, asked about killing top Iranian officials, including Qassem Soleimani, the leader of the Quds Force, a special unit of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.
After consulting their lawyer, the businessmen rejected the plan, while George Nader, a Lebanese-American entrepreneur, who was allegedly the person who had arranged the meeting, suggested that a London-based company might agree to take on the task, The New York Times reported.
The media outlet wrote that it remains unclear which company Nader suggested, but he purportedly said that it was run by former British special operations personnel.
Another reported participant in the discussions was Joel Zamel, an Israeli with ties to the country’s intelligence agencies.
Nader and Zamel reportedly devised a plan to set up fake social media accounts in Farsi to sabotage Iran from within, to fund Iranian opposition groups and to give publicity to either real or false accusations against top Iranian officials, to turn them against one another.
A spokesperson for the Saudi government, as well as lawyers for both Nader and Zamel declined to comment, The New York Times wrote.
The media outlet also reported that General Assiri was dismissed last month after the Saudi authorities confirmed the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was killed in the Saudi Consulate General in Istanbul on October 2. In mid-October the NYT cited several anonymous sources as saying that Assiri was set up as the ‘fall guy’ in the Khashoggi case.
Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post journalist of Saudi origin, went missing on October 2 after entering the Saudi consular premises in the Turkish city of Istanbul to obtain papers he needed in order to remarry.
After weeks of reports that he could have been kidnapped or killed inside the consulate and searches of the building by Turkish police, the Saudi prosecutor-general confirmed his death.
Riyadh has flatly denied the royal family’s involvement in what the Saudi government described as a ‘rogue operation’, and announced that 18 suspects had been detained as part of the ongoing investigation.
Saudi authorities announced that Khashoggi died in a fight with people who met him at the consulate, while the Istanbul prosecutor stated that his body was dismembered and destroyed after he was strangled to death in what appeared to be a premeditated murder.