According to WhatsApp messages obtained by CNN showed Jamal Khashoggi was planning an electronic overthrow of the Saudi Government before he was killed.
In his public writings, Jamal Khashoggi’s criticism of Saudi Arabia and its Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was measured. In private, the Washington Post columnist didn’t hold back.
In more than 400 WhatsApp messages sent to a fellow Saudi exile in the year before he was killed at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Khashoggi describes bin Salman — often referred to as MBS — as a “beast,” a “pac-man” who would devour all in his path, even his supporters.
CNN has been granted exclusive access to the correspondence between Khashoggi and Montreal-based activist Omar Abdulaziz. The messages shared by Abdulaziz, which include voice recordings, photos and videos, paint a picture of a man deeply troubled by what he regarded as the petulance of his kingdom’s powerful young prince.
“The more victims he eats, the more he wants,” says Khashoggi in one message sent in May, just after a group of Saudi activists had been rounded up. “I will not be surprised if the oppression will reach even those who are cheering him on.”
The exchanges reveal a progression from talk to action — the pair had begun planning an online youth movement that would hold the Saudi state to account. “[Jamal] believed that MBS is the issue, is the problem and he said this kid should be stopped,” Abdulaziz said in an interview with CNN.
But in August, when he believed their conversations may have been intercepted by Saudi authorities, a sense of foreboding descends over Khashoggi. “God help us,” he wrote.
Two months later, he was dead.
Abdulaziz is now joining a lawsuit against an Israeli company that invented the software he believes was used to hack his phone. “The hacking of my phone played a major role in what happened to Jamal, I am really sorry to say,” Abdelaziz told CNN. “The guilt is killing me.”
Abdulaziz began speaking out against the Saudi regime as a college student in Canada. His pointed criticisms of government policies drew the attention of the Saudi state, which canceled his university scholarship. Canada granted him asylum in 2014 and made him a permanent resident three years later.
In almost daily exchanges between October 2017 and August 2018, Khashoggi and Abdulaziz conceived plans to form an electronic army to engage young Saudis back home and debunk state propaganda on social media, leveraging Khashoggi’s establishment profile and the 27-year-old Abdulaziz’s 340,000-strong Twitter following.
The digital offensive, dubbed the “cyber bees,” had emerged from earlier discussions about creating a portal for documenting human rights abuses in their homeland as well an initiative to produce short films for mobile distribution.
“We have no parliament; we just have Twitter,” said Abdulaziz, adding that Twitter is also the Saudi’s government’s strongest weapon. “Twitter is the only tool they’re using to fight and to spread their rumors. We’ve been attacked, we’ve been insulted, we’d been threatened so many times, and we decided to do something.”
The pair’s scheme involved two key elements that Saudi Arabia might well have viewed as hostile acts. The first involved sending foreign SIM cards to dissidents back home so they could tweet without being traced. The second was money. According to Abdulaziz, Khashoggi pledged an initial $30,000 and promised to drum up support from rich donors under the radar.
In one exchange, dated May this year, Abdulaziz writes to Khashoggi. “I sent you some ideas about the electronic army. By email.”
“Brilliant report,” Khashoggi replies. “I will try to sort out the money. We have to do something.”
This adds another layer to the story regarding the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. Did he deserve to be killed? Of course not. Does this explain why the Saudis risked the killing? Yes. The bottom line was that the Saudis viewed Jamal as a threat to there national security and thought the reward of him being gone greatly outweighed the backlash the would receive.