Secret phone calls have revealed a disturbing threat the Saudi Crown Prince made a year before Jamal Khashoggi's death.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman reportedly threatened to kill Jamal Khashoggi over a year before his shocking murder.
US intelligence services intercepted communications in which the Saudi leader said he would use "a bullet" against the Washington Post columnist if he did not stop publishing unflattering reports about the regime, The New York Times reported.
He made the remarks to a top aide, Turki Aldakhil, in September 2017.
While analysts believe he may have been speaking metaphorically when he referenced the bullet, they concluded his desire to silence the journalist was very much real.
In the audio, the Crown Prince allegedly said he wanted Khashoggi to return to the kingdom, and complained his work was hurting the leader's image as a reformer.
At the time, bin Salman was positioning himself as a leader who would be more palatable to the outside world. He had embarked on a much-publicised visit to the United States six months prior with the aim of opening Saudi Arabia up to the West.
Aldakhil has denied the Times report. "These allegations are categorically false," he reportedly said. "They appear to be a continuation of various efforts by different parties to connect His Royal Highness Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to this horrific crime. These efforts will prove futile."
The communications were analysed after US intelligence agencies searched through bin Salman's texts and calls, which — according to The Times — is a routine procedure.
The conversation helped provide evidence of bin Salman's alleged role in the murder of Khashoggi.
An independent UN human rights expert says authorities in Saudi Arabia quietly held a second court hearing for 11 people facing charges over the killing of the columnist.
Agnes Callamard, the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, says she learned of the hearing during her first visit to Turkey last week to investigate the murder.
Khashoggi was killed inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on October 2 last year. His remains have not been found.
Meanwhile, Turkey has slammed the "complete lack of transparency" from Saudi officials on the investigation, saying it's deeply concerning and detrimental to their credibility.
Saudi Arabia has previously denied Turkey's extradition request for the 11 suspects.
Despite Turkey's joint investigation with Saudi officials looking at the kingdom's consulate in Istanbul, the consul's residence and several other locations, the whereabouts of Khashoggi's remains are still unknown. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said Khashoggi's killing was ordered by the highest level of Saudi leadership, but Riyadh has rejected accusations that the Crown Prince was involved.
Fahrettin Altun, Erdogan's communications director, said Turkey's findings on the case were in line with those of the UN-led inquiry, adding that Ankara was committed to co-operating in a potential UN investigation into the case.
"The world is watching. Turkey, along with all nations that believe in democracy and freedom, seeks justice and the truth," he said.
— with wires