ADDS TREASURY DEPARTMENT SANCTIONS IN GRAFS 5-7; EDITS THROUGHOUT
By Michael Hernandez
WASHINGTON (AA) - The US rolled out Friday what it is calling the "Khashoggi Ban," a new visa restriction policy under existing law meant to punish governments who work to silence dissidents abroad.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the initial tranche of people who are being designated includes 76 Saudi individuals who the US believes have sought to threaten dissidents overseas, including those involved in the brutal 2018 murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.
"The Khashoggi Ban allows the State Department to impose visa restrictions on individuals who, acting on behalf of a foreign government, are believed to have been directly engaged in serious, extraterritorial counter-dissident activities, including those that suppress, harass, surveil, threaten, or harm journalists, activists, or other persons perceived to be dissidents," he said in a statement.
The family members of sanctioned individuals may also face the visa penalties, according to the State Department.
The Treasury Department separately announced that Ahmad Hassan Mohammed al-Asiri, the former Deputy Head of Saudi Arabia’s General Intelligence Presidency, is being sanctioned along with Mohammed bin Salman's personal protective detail, known as the Rapid Intervention Force (RIF).
The department said al-Asiri was the "ringleader of the operation" that led to Khashoggi's death, and had coordinated it with Saud al-Qahtani, a former advisor to Saudi Arabia's Royal Court who was viewed as bin Salman's top aide.
Of the 15 people that comprised the Saudi team sent to Istanbul in 2018, seven were from the RIF, according to a newly-released intelligence report.
The announcements come in the wake of the report's release. It marks the first time the US has publicly blamed bin Salman for the operation that led to Khashoggi's death.
The Director of National Intelligence concluded the Kingdom's de facto ruler "approved" the operation to "capture or kill" the journalist.
"We base this assessment on the Crown Prince's control of decisionmaking in the Kingdom, the direct involvement of a key adviser and members of Muhammad bin Salman's protective detail in the operation, and the Crown Prince's support for using violent measures to silence dissidents abroad, including Khashoggi," the report says, using an alternate spelling for the crown prince’s name.
"Since 2017, the Crown Prince has had absolute control of the Kingdom's security and intelligence organizations, making it highly unlikely that Saudi officials would have carried out an operation of this nature without the Crown Prince's authorization," it added in an executive summary.
Khashoggi was brutally killed and likely dismembered after being lured by Saudi officials to their consulate in Istanbul, Turkey in October 2018. While Riyadh initially denied any role in his death, it later sought to pin blame on what it said was a botched rendition operation.
That explanation has been widely rejected.