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Saudi ex-intelligence chief 'scapegoated over Khashoggi' met Trump team over Iran

Sacked intelligence chief Ahmad al-Assiri reportedly met with Trump's team in January 2017 [AFP]

Date of publication: 26 October, 2018

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A report has claimed that a recently-sacked Saudi intelligence chief met with US President Trump's team prior to his inauguration to discuss regime change in Iran.


The Saudi intelligence chief recently sacked over the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi met with members of US President Trump's transition team in early 2017 to discuss regime change in Iran, the Daily Beast reported on Tuesday.

The meeting between General Ahmed al-Assiri and then Trump adviser Michael Flynn in New York has come under scrutiny by special counsel Robert Mueller's office as part of an investigation into foreign influence on the Trump campaign and the White House.

"It makes complete sense that Assiri would have been meeting with the Trump team during this time,” an unnamed former Pentagon official told The Daily Beast. “The team was meeting with a lot of foreign influencers and Saudi (Arabia) was a country that wanted in on all anti-Iran projects."

The talks in New York were also attended by United Arab Emirates-linked Lebanese businessman George Nader and Israeli social media strategist Joel Zamel. Zamel's company, Psy-Group, is alleged to have been behind an online manipulation campaign which influenced the 2016 US elections by creating thousands of fake Twitter accounts.

According to communications seen by the Daily Beast, alt-right ideologue Steve Bannon was also involved in two of the January sessions.

"It's concerning to me as a former intelligence official because of the fact that it smacks of covert action planning, which is the most sensitive thing the US government does and is so uniquely the province of the sitting president," former acting CIA director John McLaughlin told the US current affairs website.

According to the communications seen by the Beast, the meetings covered a multi-pronged strategy for taking down the Iranian regime, including thorugh economic and military means.

The meetings not only reveal how Riyadh attempted to influence key areas of the Trump team's foreign policy, but also links for intelligence chief Assiri to to Zamel, a self-styled online security expert with deep ties to Israeli intelligence. In the last year, analysts say Saudi Arabia has grown closer to Israel as the two states focus their energies against their mutual rival, Iran.

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 Houthi rebels since March 2015. 

Before his sacking on Saturday, the New York Times reported earlier this week that Riyadh would assign blame for Khashoggi's disappearance on Assiri to help deflect blame from the powerful crown prince.

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