American oil executives say they are disturbed by a photo of the Saudi crown prince and the energy minister at a Saudi Aramco event in Houston in April, in which the two men stand with a third man who appears to be Maher al Mutrib, a Saudi royal bodyguard who is a key suspect in the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. His presence in the photo illustrates the close links to the highest levels of the Saudi government of some of the suspects allegedly involved in the murder, according to The Wall Street Journal.
The oil executives, upon examination of the photos, were shaken to see Mutrib so closely connected to Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al Falih, who many oil executives work closely with as Falih is the chairman of Aramco, the world’s largest oil company.
Saudi officials have acknowledged that a team of Saudi operatives, including Maher al Mutrib, confronted Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2 in an incident that led to Khashoggi’s death. The Saudis claim that Khashoggi died in a brawl that broke out during a botched interrogation attempt, and the agents attempted to cover up the killing. A total of 18 Saudi operatives have been detained by the Saudi-led investigation, including Mutrib.
Turkish officials that initially investigated the incident have an entirely different conclusion about what happened on that fateful day. Turkish investigators assert that Khashoggi was tortured, murdered, and dismembered inside the Saudi consulate by a covert strike team sent there specifically for that purpose. They suspect the group was led by Mutrib, after examining evidence that includes an audio recording that was allegedly made while Khashoggi was being killed.
Maher al Mutrib was once a Saudi intelligence official based at the Saudi embassy in London who accompanied Saudi crown prince Muhammad bin Salman on several excursions this past year. Investigation photos of Mutrib walking the consulate grounds in Istanbul closely resemble the man in photos from the Aramco event in Houston.
Turkish officials said Maher al Mutrib’s participation in the alleged murder is one of the most solid pieces of evidence that the Saudi royal family is connected to the conspiracy. The Saudi investigation has confirmed that Mutrib is among the suspects in their own inquiry.
The crown prince’s connections to alleged members of the Khashoggi hit squad has battered his image in recent weeks. Once seen as a progressive reformer who allowed women to drive, opened up Saudi Arabia to foreign investment, and tempered the religious police, Mohammed bin Salman is now seen as a shady, potentially murderous autocrat. A flood of world leaders have dropped out of the crown prince’s Future Investment Initiative conference, and there is growing resistance from American technology firms to expand their business into Saudi Arabia.