Four Saudi operatives who were part of a hit team that murdered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi received paramilitary training from a private US company approved by the State Department, according to a report Tuesday.
Citing documents and people familiar with the arrangement, the New York Times reported that the Saudi operatives had received training from Tier 1 Group in 2017, and two of them had participated in a previous version of the training that ran from October 2014 until January 2015.
However, the Arkansas-based security company -- owned by private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management -- claimed the training "was defensive in nature and devised to better protect Saudi leaders," said the Times.
Khashoggi was brutally murdered and likely dismembered after being lured by Saudi officials to their consulate in Istanbul, Turkey in October 2018. While Riyadh initially denied any role in his death, it later sought to pin blame on what it said was a botched rendition operation.
That explanation has been widely rejected.
In February, a report released by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) under President Joe Biden’s administration said Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman approved the killing.
The report further said that the crown prince, the kingdom’s de facto leader, “approved an operation…to capture or kill” Khashoggi.
The training license was initially given by the State Department during the Barack Obama administration and the training continued during at least the first year of President Donald Trump’s term, said the Times.
Louis Bremer, a senior executive of Cerberus, Tier 1 Group’s parent company, confirmed his company’s role in the training last year but said the company did not train any Saudis after December 2017.
“T1G management, the board and I stand firmly with the U.S. government, the American people and the international community in condemning the horrific murder of Jamal Khashoggi,” Bremer told the newspaper in a statement.