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'Kingdom of Silence': How Jamal Khashoggi and Osama Bin Laden's relationship changed from Soviet invasion to 9/11

While Khashoggi supported Osama Bin Laden at one point, he fell out with him over the latter's continuing support of the war in Afghanistan
Jamal Khashoggi (Showtime), Osama Bin Laden (Getty Images)
Jamal Khashoggi (Showtime), Osama Bin Laden (Getty Images)

On October 2, 2018, Jamal Khashoggi, a prominent Saudi Arabian dissident and journalist-in-exile, was reported missing after his visit to the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. It was not revealed until later that Khashoggi had, in fact, been assassinated by a 15-member squad of Saudi assassins. Details of Khashoggi's horrifying assassination soon emerged – he was ambushed, suffocated and dismembered. Khashoggi had been lured to the consulate on the pretext of providing him with papers for his upcoming nuptials. 

Perhaps to most of the western world, his assassination was when Khashoggi began to become popular among households as the horrifying details of his assassination began to unfold. However, Khashoggi had been a prominent journalist in the Arab world for a long time, having earlier enjoyed the protection of the Saudi royal family in the days before the Arab Spring. Khashoggi's family had long been associated with the royal family --  his grandfather, Muhammad Khashoggi, was a medical doctor to the Saudi royal family.

Khashoggi's life, work, and death are the subjects of the latest documentary from Showtime, 'Kingdom of Silence', which brings it through the lens of the relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia. The two countries' relationship began as a commercial one but evolved during the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan which began in 1979. During this, many Arab youths traveled to Afghanistan to fight against the Soviet forces, supported by the governments of both Saudi Arabia and the United States.

At this time, Khashoggi had supported the fight against the Soviet Union as well and had traveled across Afghanistan documenting it. It was during this time that he met a young Saudi national who was leading the fight, someone whom he found to be charismatic. It was Osama Bin Laden. In fact, Khashoggi's coverage of Bin Laden and his fight helped catapult the latter in the media, turning him into a celebrity.

However, as they went their separate ways, Bin Laden continued into extremism while Khashoggi wanted reform.  Khashoggi is said to have fallen out with bin Laden over what he saw as the needless continuation of the war in Afghanistan even after the defeat of the Soviets, and bin Laden’s designs beyond Afghanistan.

When the 9/11 attacks happened, it pained Khashoggi that Bin Laden was responsible for it. According to The New York Times, Khashoggi wrote on Twitter: "I collapsed crying a while ago, heartbroken for you Abu Abdullah", using bin Laden's nickname, and continued: "You were beautiful and brave in those beautiful days in Afghanistan, before you surrendered to hatred and passion."

Al Arabiya reported that Khashoggi once tried to persuade bin Laden to quit violence. Khashoggi had said, "I was very much surprised [in 1997] to see Osama turning into radicalism the way he did." In an article he wrote for Lebanon's The Daily Star, he wrote, "The most pressing issue now is to ensure that our children can never be influenced by extremist ideas­ like those 15 Saudis who were misled into hijacking four planes that fine September day, piloting them, and us, straight into the jaws of hell.”

'Kingdom of Silence' aired on Showtime on Friday, October 2.