WASHINGTON, Oct 20 (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia deployed an online army to harass dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi and other critics of the kingdom on Twitter, the New York Times reported on Saturday.
The efforts to attack Khashoggi and other influential Saudis, and sway public opinion against them on the social media service, included a so-called troll farm based in Riyadh and a suspected spy within Twitter that the kingdom utilized to monitor user accounts, the New York Times reported.
Twitter declined to comment. A representative from the Saudi embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Saudi officials said on Saturday that Washington Post columnist Khashoggi died in a fight in its Istanbul consulate. But Turkish officials say Khashoggi was assassinated and dismembered by Saudi security forces.
The Times reported Saudi operatives began a social media campaign to harass critics in 2010. Saud al-Qahtani, an adviser to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, created the strategy behind the effort, the newspaper said, citing U.S. and Saudi officials.
Qahtani was one of five officials Saudi King Salman has fired, according to Saudi state media, following the global controversy over Khashoggi’s disappearance. (Reporting by Joel Schectman Editing by Tom Brown)