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Jamal Khashoggi: Saudis who killed journalist 'received paramilitary training in US'

The US State Department-approved training took place a year before Khashoggi's murder, according to the New York Times
Khashoggi was a US resident who wrote columns for Middle East Eye and the Washington Post (Reuters)

Four Saudis who participated in the 2018 killing of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi received paramilitary training in the United States the previous year under a contract approved by the US State Department, the New York Times (NYT) reported on Tuesday.

The training was provided by Tier 1 Group, which is owned by the private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management, and was defensive in nature and devised to protect Saudi leaders, the US newspaper reported.

Cerberus did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Reuters.

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In response to the NYT report, US State Department spokesman Ned Price said under the law the department cannot comment "on any of the licensed defence export licensing activity alleged in media reporting".

Price also said US policy towards Saudi Arabia "will prioritise the rule of law and respect for human rights".

Khashoggi was a US resident who wrote columns for Middle East Eye and the Washington Post.

The Saudi journalist, who was critical of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was killed and dismembered by a team of operatives linked to the prince in the kingdom's consulate in Istanbul in October 2018. 

A US intelligence report in February said the crown prince had approved an operation to capture or kill the journalist.

Cerberus senior executive Louis Bremer confirmed his company's role in the training of four members of the Khashoggi kill team last year in written answers to questions from members of Congress as part of his nomination for a senior Pentagon job in former US President Donald Trump's administration, according to the NYT.

But the lawmakers never received the answers because the Trump administration does not appear to have sent them to Congress before withdrawing Bremer’s nomination, according to the newspaper, which said Bremer provided it with the document.

In the document, Bremer said that the company had conducted a review in March 2019 and concluded that the training provided "was unrelated to their subsequent heinous acts".

Senator Tim Kaine, who pressed Bremer for answers publicly during his confirmation hearing last August, called on Wednesday for further probing.

"There must be a thorough review of all Tier 1 Group contracts and stronger State Department oversight of US defence services provided to foreign nations," he said in a statement.

"Especially ones with such problematic human rights records like Saudi Arabia to ensure something like this never happens again."