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FRONTLINE: The Crown Prince Of Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman leaves the Hotel Matignon in Paris, France, April 9, 2018.
Courtesy of REUTERS/Charles Platiau
Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman leaves the Hotel Matignon in Paris, France, April 9, 2018.

Airs Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2019 at 10 p.m. on KPBS TV

One Year After Jamal Khashoggi’s Murder, FRONTLINE’s Season Premiere Investigates 
“The Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia”

On Oct. 2, 2018, Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi walked into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. He never walked out. Within a matter of days, it was revealed that he had been murdered and dismembered by a 15-person Saudi hit squad.

What role did Saudi Arabia’s new crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, play in orchestrating the murder that shocked the world? And who is this young and powerful member of the Saud dynasty — portrayed as a modernizer with the firm support of President Donald Trump?


One year after Khashoggi’s killing, FRONTLINE begins its new season with "The Crown Prince Of Saudi Arabia" — an epic, two-hour investigation into MBS’s ties to the murder, his relationship with the U.S., his handling of dissent, and his vision for the future of Saudi Arabia.

With on-the-ground reporting from veteran FRONTLINE correspondent Martin Smith ("Bitter Rivals: Iran and Saudi Arabia"), who has been covering the Middle East for FRONTLINE for nearly two decades, "The Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia" premieres Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2019.

“I wanted to understand who MBS is and where Saudi Arabia is headed, and get closer to the real story of the events surrounding the killing of Jamal Khashoggi,” says Smith.

In pursuit of that goal, Smith tracked down MBS himself — who went on the record about his role in the murder for the first time. “It happened under my watch. I get all the responsibility, because it happened under my watch,” he said. When Smith went on to press the Saudi leader on how an operation like Khashoggi’s killing could happen without him knowing about it, MBS’s response was, “We have 20 million people. We have 3 million government employees.”

Drawing on dozens of interviews with key Saudi officials, dissidents, activists, intelligence community insiders and journalists, the documentary paints television’s most comprehensive portrait yet of how MBS came to power, how he governs, and the events surrounding Khashoggi’s murder — an assassination the Saudis maintain was “a rogue operation.”


In a contentious interview, Smith presses foreign minister Adel al-Jubeir about the Saudis’ conclusions and their changing stories about the murder.

“Look, you’re asking a lot, all these questions … It seems to me that you have made up your mind before you watched the due process,” Jubeir tells Smith.

“No, you’ve made up your mind that it’s a rogue operation,” Smith counters.

The documentary also includes never-before seen FRONTLINE interview footage with Khashoggi himself that sheds new light on his transformation from supporter to critic of MBS.

Initially, he praised the crown prince, including his military campaign in Yemen. But then, Khashoggi became dismayed by the acts of repression he saw happening under the young leader he once supported.

“I don't want to be a dissident, but in the same time, I don't want to go back home and be silent again,” the columnist told Smith months before his death.

The film traces how, after being named as the heir to Saudi Arabia’s King Salman, MBS implemented widely praised economic and social reforms — but then moved to consolidate power in ways that included brutal crackdowns on activists, whose family members speak out to FRONTLINE.

RELATED ARTICLE: "Saudi Arabia Again Under UN Scrutiny as Anniversary of Khashoggi Killing Nears" by Zoe Todd

The documentary delves into the role of Saud al-Qahtani, the now-former close aide to MBS who is accused of overseeing Khashoggi’s murder.

Prior to that, he ran a massive digital surveillance campaign and launched a social media blacklist effort encouraging ordinary citizens to inform on anyone who criticized the Crown Prince.

“This is, basically, the deepest point in repression, when it sinks so much that it makes citizens its own arm in controlling the population,” Saudi expat and professor Madawi al-Rasheed tells FRONTLINE.

In unspooling the story of how Saudi Arabia arrived at this moment and why Jamal Khashoggi was targeted, "The Crown Prince Of Saudi Arabia" also offers powerful insights into the relationship between MBS and the West — including the Trump administration.

“To give credit to Mohammed bin Salman, of his many sought-after accomplishments, the grooming and wooing of Donald Trump has to be pretty close to the top,” former CIA analyst Bruce Reidel tells FRONTLINE.

As attacks on oil facilities in Saudi Arabia present a major new test of MBS's leadership, this film is a gripping and riveting look at his ascent.

RELATED ARTICLE: "As Oil Attacks Raise Questions, Revisit Saudi Arabia and Iran’s Bitter Rivalry" by Patrice Taddonio

Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attends a session during the Group of 20 (G20) summit in Osaka, Japan.
Courtesy of Mikhail Klimentyev / Sputnik via AP
Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attends a session during the Group of 20 (G20) summit in Osaka, Japan.

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A FRONTLINE production with Rain Media, Inc. The producers are Linda Hirsch, Sara Obeidat and Martin Smith. The correspondent is Martin Smith. The writers are Martin Smith and Linda Hirsch. The executive producer of FRONTLINE is Raney Aronson-Rath.