WASHINGTON (Dispatches) -- Four Saudis who participated in the 2018 killing of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi received paramilitary training in the United States the previous year under a contract approved by the U.S. State Department, the New York Times has reported.
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 help protect Saudi leaders, the Times reported.
“The training provided was unrelated to their subsequent heinous acts,” Cerberus senior executive Louis Bremer was quoted by the Times as saying.
He added that a review by Tier 1 Group conducted in March 2019 “uncovered no wrongdoing by the company and confirmed that the established curriculum training was unrelated to the murder of Jamal Khashoggi”.
Khashoggi, a U.S. resident who wrote opinion columns for the Washington Post critical of Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad 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.
The ABC previously revealed that a doctor suspected of killing and dismembering Khashoggi trained at the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine in Melbourne after being sponsored by Saudi Arabia’s government.
In response to the Times report, U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price said the department could not comment “on any of the licensed defense export licensing activity alleged in media reporting”, for legal reasons.
Price also said U.S. policy towards Saudi Arabia would “prioritize the rule of law and respect for human rights”.
A U.S. intelligence report in February said the crown prince had approved an operation to capture or kill the journalist.
U.S. President Joe Biden said at the time that he told the Saudi King Salman, the crown prince’s father, that the U.S. would “hold them accountable for human rights abuses”.
But Washington has not imposed direct sanctions against Muhammad bin Salman, drawing criticism from Khashoggi’s fiancee and from human rights groups.
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 president Donald Trump’s administration, according to the Times.
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 Times, which said Bremer provided it with the document.
Bremer said the U.S. State Department and other government agencies were responsible for vetting foreign forces trained on U.S. soil, the Times reported.