Saudi aide accused of directing Khashoggi murder hailed as patriot on pro-government social media
A Saudi royal court adviser accused of directing the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi is being lauded by pro-government influencers online.
Saud al-Qahtani, a close advisor and friend to Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) has been praised repeatedly on social media as a "hero", "patriot" and "leader" - starting in May, and building in frequency over July and August, a report by the Guardian has shown.
The online acclaim is viewed by some as a signal of the Saudi's gradual return to power after he disappeared following the brutal assassination of Khashoggi in Turkey, the Guardian report said.
“There is no question that Qahtani is back," a senior Gulf official said, according to the newspaper. "The question is, did he ever really leave?"
Both CIA and MI6 believe Qahtani was a central figure in the plot that lead to Khashoggi into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, where he was murdered in 2018.
In the three years since, the advisor was allegedly investigated and cleared of all charges by Saudi courts. However, he has not been publicly reinstalled as a senior aide to MbS.
Khashoggi was a Saudi royal family ally-turned-critic, who fled to the US in 2017 and wrote for The Washington Post. His articles criticised the policies of MbS.
He was murdered on October 2, 2018 when he went to the Saudi consulate to obtain a Saudi document stating he was divorced so he could marry his Turkish fiancee Hatice Cengiz.
While Saudi officials claim he was killed in a "rogue operation", Turkish officials said agents were working on the orders of the Saudi government.
On the two year anniversary of Khashoggi’s death, Beha Morayef, Amnesty International's Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa said: "It has never been more urgent to hold those responsible for Jamal Khashoggi's killing to account."
On the three year anniversary of his death, Cengiz called on US President Joe Biden to hold Saudi leaders to account for Khashoggi's death at a candlelight vigil.
"MBS took Jamal from me and the entire world. Will you hold him accountable or will you reward these murderers?" she said.