Saudi Arabia on Saturday sacked two top aides to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman after conceding that critic Jamal Khashoggi was killed inside its Istanbul consulate.
Deputy intelligence chief Ahmad al-Assiri and royal court media advisor Saud al-Qahtani were both part of Prince Mohammed’s inner circle. Their ouster came alongside the arrests of 18 Saudi suspects and the dismissal of other intelligence officials.
Here are the profiles of the top aides:
Assiri, said to be in his 60s, was a high-ranking advisor close to the royal court and often sat in during Prince Mohammed’s closed-door meetings with visiting foreign dignitaries.
Prior to his promotion as the deputy head of general intelligence in 2017, Assiri served as the spokesman for the Saudi-led military alliance in Yemen which has been battling Huthi rebels since March 2015.
Fluent in French, English and Arabic, the hard-charging official had developed a reputation for hassling journalists whose reports were not to his liking.
The Saudi daily Al-Hayat once described the major general, who trained at the renowned French military school Saint-Cyr, as the “best known Saudi pilot in the world”.
Last year Britain apologised after an anti-war activist attempted to make a citizen’s arrest of Assiri, over Saudi Arabia’s role in the Yemen conflict, and threw an egg at him during a London visit.
Before his sacking on Saturday, the New York Times reported earlier this week that Saudi Arabia would assign blame for Khashoggi’s disappearance on Assiri to help deflect blame from the powerful crown prince.
A key counsellor to Prince Mohammed, Qahtani was a media advisor in the royal court.
He organised interviews with the prince for foreign journalists and also served as the head of the “Centre for Studies and Media Affairs”, a unit operating inside the royal court.
Saudi sources say Qahtani, said to be 40-years-old, steered online propaganda campaigns against the kingdom’s adversaries such as Qatar and Iran on social media.
With 1.3 million Twitter followers, the firebrand official was known for aggressively targeting dissenters and rivals on the platform.
Writing for the Washington Post earlier this year, Khashoggi alleged Qahtani maintained a “blacklist” for writers critical of the kingdom and was known to intimidate them.
In an off-record interview to Newsweek magazine prior to his death — which was published on Saturday — Khashoggi described Qahtani and another Saudi top official Turki al-Sheikh as “thuggish”.
“People fear them. You challenge them, you might end up in prison, and that has happened,” he was quoted as saying.
He called Qahtani the “most important man in media”, saying he controlled the government’s PR activities.
A known loyalist to Saudi rulers, he tweeted last year: “I don’t do anything from my own head without an order. I am an employee and executer to my king and my crown prince.”