RIYADH, Nov 15, (Agencies): Saudi Arabia Thursday called for the death penalty against five people accused of murdering journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Kingdom’s Istanbul consulate, but absolved the crown prince of any blame.
Khashoggi, the Washington Post contributor and critic of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was drugged and his body dismembered, a spokesman for the public prosecutor said, in the first Saudi confirmation of how the journalist died.
But spokesman Shaalan al-Shaalan denied Prince Mohammed had any knowledge of the killing.
The journalist’s body parts were then handed over to an agent outside the consulate grounds, Shaalan said. The prosecutor has requested the death penalty for the five who “are charged with ordering and committing the crime and for the appropriate sentences for the other indicted individuals”, Shaalan said.
The announcement follows huge international outcry over the killing of the 59-year-old Khashoggi, last seen entering the consulate on Oct 2 to obtain paperwork for his marriage. The journalist went into self-imposed exile in the United States in 2017 after falling out with Prince Mohammed. Implicated in the murder are the oncepowerful deputy chief of Saudi Arabia’s intelligence, General Ahmed al-Assiri, who gave the order to repatriate Khashoggi, and an unnamed “head of the negotiating team” who flew to the Istanbul consulate had ordered his murder, Shaalan said.
The prosecution said it now has 21 people in custody, 11 of whom have been indicted with investigations to continue into the others.
The Kingdom previously said it had sacked two top aides to the crown prince who were known to be part of his tight inner circle – Assiri and royal court media adviser Saud al-Qahtani. Qahtani has been banned from travel and is now under investigation, the prosecutor’s office said, but did not reveal the fate of Assiri. On Sunday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told the Saudi crown prince in a phone call that Washington would hold accountable all those involved.
“The secretary emphasised that the United States will hold all of those involved in the killing of Khashoggi accountable, and that Saudi Arabia must do the same,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement. Turkey has called for an international investigation into the murder, and has previously hinted that the Saudi authorities were not keen on genuinely cooperating with their investigation.
The Saudi prosecutor’s office said the Kingdom had requested that Turkey sign a “special cooperation mechanism” on a probe into the murder but had not yet received a response. Responding to the statement, Turkey on Thursday said the Saudi response was “insufficient” and insisted the killing was “premeditated.” “We find all those steps positive, but insufficient,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said in a televised speech.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly said the order to murder Khashoggi came from the upper echelons of the Saudi government. Ankara has also shared voice recordings linked to the murder with a number of countries including Saudi Arabia, the United States and its Western allies.
The global fallout over the Khashoggi murder has tainted the image of 33-year-old Prince Mohammed – the de facto ruler and heir apparent widely known as MBS – despite persistent Saudi denials that he was involved. “The prosecutor’s statement further reinforces that there is no risk whatsoever to MBS’ position,” said Quentin de Pimodan, a consultant at the Greece-based Research Institute for European and American Studies. “The Saudis will continue to push the narrative that these advisors ‘betrayed the prince’s trust’.”
Khashoggi’s killing has plunged Saudi Arabia, the world’s top oil exporter, into its worst diplomatic crisis since the Sept 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, in which most of the hijackers were identified as Saudi nationals.
The US Treasury was to announce on Thursday sanctions on 17 Saudis for their role in the killing of Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, according to a source familiar with the administration’s plans. Those to be sanctioned include Saud al-Qahtani, a former top aide to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, as well as the Saudi Consul General Mohammed Alotaibi, the source said.
The sanctions will be implemented under the Global Magnitsky Act, which imposes sanctions over human rights abuses, the source said. Among others facing sanctions are Maher Mutreb, an aide to Qahtani who has appeared in photographs with Prince Mohammed on official visits this year to the United States and Europe.
Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister on Thursday dismissed Turkey’s demand for an international inquiry into the murder of Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Riyadh has its own “investigative body” and would “reject” an independent investigation into the killing of Khashoggi, who had been “heavily drugged” before being dismembered, Minister Adel al- Jubeir said.
“This is now a legal case and is thus in the hands of Saudi Arabia’s judiciary,” Jubeir told reporters in Riyadh. Turkish officials have cast doubt on whether Saudi Arabia was willing to genuinely cooperate with authorities on the murder of Khashoggi, a Washington Post contributor.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on Wednesday called for the international investigation into the Oct 2 killing of Khashoggi. “In the beginning we said we formed a working group with Saudi Arabia and that we had no plans to take the (murder) to international court,” Cavusoglu told parliament.
But he added that was not the case any more and the government now believed “an international investigation is a must”. “We will do whatever is needed to shed light on all its aspects of this murder,” Cavusoglu said.
Saudi Arabia on Thursday made its first official admission that Khashoggi had been dismembered inside its Istanbul consulate, and said it was seeking the death penalty against five people accused of the murder. But Jubeir said Prince Mohammed, the powerful 33-year-old heir to the throne, had “absolutely” nothing to do with the killing.
Turkey is not satisfied with remarks from Saudi Arabia’s public prosecutor on the murder of Khashoggi, Ankara’s foreign minister said on Thursday, adding the journalist was targeted in a premeditated killing. Riyadh had offered numerous contradictory explanations for his disappearance, before saying Khashoggi was killed after “negotiations” to convince him to return to the Kingdom failed.
On Thursday, the public prosecutor’s office said he was killed after a struggle by a lethal injection and his body dismembered and taken out of the building. “I don’t find some comments satisfying. They say this person was killed because he resisted, whereas this murder was premeditated,” Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told reporters.
“Again, they say he was dismembered … but this isn’t a spontaneous thing. The necessary equipment and people were previously brought in to kill and later dismember him.” President Tayyip Erdogan has said the killing was ordered at the “highest levels” of the Saudi government.
Cavusoglu also reiterated Turkey’s call for Riyadh to disclose the location of Khashoggi’s remains. “Where is the body of the murdered Khashoggi? Where was it thrown, where was it burned?” Cavusoglu said. He did not say whether Turkey had evidence that pointed to the body having been burned. Turkey has previously called for an investigation into reports the body was dissolved in acid.