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Twitter suspends account of former top Saudi aide implicated in Khashoggi killing

A demonstrator holds a poster showing the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi during a gathering outside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 25, 2018. (YASIN AKGUL/AFP/Getty Images)

ISTANBUL — Twitter said Friday it has suspended an account belonging to Saud al-Qahtani, a former adviser to Saudi Arabia’s royal court who was implicated by Saudi, American and Turkish officials in an operation last year that led to the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Qahtani’s Twitter account, which had more than 1.3 million followers but went quiet after Khashoggi’s killing, was “permanently” suspended because of unspecified “violations of our platform manipulation policies,” Twitter said in a statement.

The company said it also suspended hundreds of other accounts from several countries, including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, as part of its ongoing investigations into manipulation and state-backed information operations.

It was not clear what prompted Twitter to act now against Qahtani, who was once a powerful media adviser to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Qahtani was also an architect of the kingdom’s online propaganda efforts and a central player in Saudi Arabia’s efforts to rein in overseas critics like Khashoggi, a contributing columnist for The Washington Post.

Khashoggi mystery fixes spotlight on Saudi official described as crown prince’s strategist, enforcer

Khashoggi was killed Oct. 2 in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul by a team of Saudi agents. His body, which was dismembered after he was killed, has not been recovered.

 “Over the past 18 months, MBS’s communications team within the Royal court publicly has chastised, and worse, intimidated anyone who disagrees,” Khashoggi wrote in a column in The Post in February 2018, referring to the crown prince by his initials. “Saud al-Qahtani, leader of that unit, has a blacklist and calls for Saudis to add names to it.”

On Oct. 2, 2018, Saudi agents killed Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. What has been done in the aftermath? (Video: Joyce Lee, Thomas LeGro, Dalton Bennett, John Parks/The Washington Post)

A few weeks after Khashoggi’s death, the Saudi government said Qahtani and several other senior officials had been dismissed from their posts. Saudi prosecutors said in November that they were investigating Qahtani’s role in Khashoggi’s killing and that he had been forbidden to leave the kingdom. At the same time, the Trump administration said it was imposing sanctions on Qahtani for his part in the “planning and execution of the operation that led to the killing of Mr. Khashoggi.”

Qahtani has also been accused of overseeing the abuse and torture of jailed Saudi women’s rights activists. 

Over the past year, the Saudi government has refused to clarify Qahtani’s legal status, leading to speculation about his whereabouts and rumors that he continues to advise the royal court from behind the scenes. He was not among 11 people indicted by Saudi authorities in Khashoggi’s killing, even after Saudi prosecutors detailed his prominent role in the operation. 

Named as a key Saudi suspect in Khashoggi killing, former top royal adviser drops out of sight

Qahtani did not immediately reply to an email seeking comment on the accusations and the Twitter suspension. Saudi officials have denied that prisoners in the kingdom are tortured.

Twitter said Friday that it has also suspended six Saudi accounts that had presented themselves as associated with independent media outlets. The company’s investigations found they were actually “linked to Saudi Arabia’s state-run media apparatus which were engaged in coordinated efforts to amplify messaging that was beneficial to the Saudi government.”

In addition, the company removed 267 accounts from the United Arab Emirates and Egypt that were agitating primarily against Qatar, as well as Iran, the statement said. The network of accounts “also amplified messaging supportive of the Saudi government,” Twitter said.

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