Saudi Arabia's crown prince told a senior aide he would go after Jamal Khashoggi "with a bullet" a year before the dissident journalist was killed inside the kingdom's Istanbul consulate, the New York Times reported quoting US intelligence. US intelligence understood that Mohammed bin Salman, the country's 33-year-old de facto ruler, was ready to kill the journalist, although he may not have literally meant to shoot him, according to the newspaper.
After initially denying any knowledge of Khashoggi's disappearance, the kingdom has acknowledged that a team killed him inside the diplomatic mission but described it as a rogue operation that did not involve the crown prince.
The conversation was intercepted by US intelligence agencies, as part of routine efforts by the National Security Agency and other agencies to capture and store the communications of global leaders, including allied ones, The Times said.
It was only recently transcribed, however, because of mounting efforts by US intelligence to find more conclusive proof linking the prince to the killing.
The conversation took place between Prince Mohammed and an aide, Turki Aldakhil, in September 2017 -- around 13 months before the October 2 killing, the paper said.
The prince said that if Khashoggi could not be enticed to return to Saudi Arabia, then he should be brought back by force. If neither of those methods worked, then he would go after Mr. Khashoggi "with a bullet," he said.
It came as officials in the kingdom were growing increasingly angry about Khashoggi's criticisms -- and the same month he began writing opinion pieces for The Washington Post.
Meanwhile, Rights groups pressed US President Donald Trump to take action over Saudi Arabia's killing of the dissident writer on the eve of a Friday deadline by Congress to punish perpetrators. A special UN rapporteur said Thursday that the killing was "planned and perpetrated" by Saudi officials.
In October, the then top Republican and Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee invoked the Magnitsky Act, which gave the Trump administration 120 days -- until February 8 -- to determine who was behind Khashoggi's killing and to describe actions against them.
The law, which targets extrajudicial killings and torture, is named for Sergei Magnitsky, an anti-corruption accountant who died in Russian custody.
In a joint statement Thursday accompanied by a rally outside the White House, six advocacy groups including Human Rights Watch, Reporters Without Borders and the Committee to Protect Journalists urged Trump to lay out action over Khashoggi's killing and to release CIA records on the death.
"Notwithstanding public and congressional outrage and the reported findings of the CIA, the Trump administration appears to be engaged in a cover-up on behalf of the Saudi government," they wrote.
The groups called for "an effective, independent, international investigation" and the immediate release of other journalists and activists detained in Saudi Arabia.
The kingdom's promises to prosecute those responsible have turned into a "sham," the groups said, with senior officials resigning rather than facing repercussions.
The Trump administration revoked visas for nearly two dozen Saudi officials over Khashoggi's killing and froze assets of some 17 others.
But Trump also said in a blunt statement that the killing was not worth jeopardizing the alliance with Saudi Arabia, crediting the kingdom with buying US weapons and supporting its hard line on regional rival Iran.