Khashoggi killing: Saudi prosecutor seeks death penalty for five suspects

Saudi Arabia's top prosecutor has recommended the death penalty for five of the suspects charged in the murder case of dissident writer Jamal Khashoggi. However, he denied Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's involvement.

Saud al-Mojeb, the kingdom's top prosecutor, announced on Thursday that he was recommending the death penalty for five of the 11 suspects who have been charged with ordering and carrying out the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was killed in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.

Human Rights | 11.11.2018

He did not name the suspects. In total, 21 people have been arrested in connection with the case.

Crown Prince bin Salman exonerated

Khashoggi, a regular contributor to US newspaper The Washington Post, was a staunch critic of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. His murder caused international outrage, and many believe it could not have been carried out without bin Salman's knowledge.

The prosecutor, however, claimed the crown prince was not involved in the killing. He said the highest-ranking member of the Saudi leadership implicated in the operation was former deputy intelligence chief Ahmad al-Assiri, who has since been fired for ordering Khashoggi's forced return.

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Saudis face growing pressure over Khashoggi killing

A spokesman for the prosecution told reporters that plans to assassinate Khashoggi were set in motion on September 29.

"The crime included a fight and injecting the citizen Khashoggi with a drug overdose that led to his death," the official said. The body was dismembered and handed over to a local collaborator, he added. He did not give any details on the location of the body.

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Khashoggi entered the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on October 2 to get paperwork for his upcoming wedding. His fiancée raised the alarm when he did not return. After weeks of denials and under growing international pressure, Riyadh finally admittedthat Khashoggi was killed in the consulate in a "rogue" operation.

US issues sanctions

On Thursday, US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced that the US was placing harsh economic sanctions on 17 Saudis for their alleged involvement in the Khashoggi murder.

In a statement, Mnuchin said: "The Saudi officials we are sanctioning were involved in the abhorrent killing of Jamal Khashoggi. These individuals who targeted and brutally killed a journalist who resided and worked in the United States must face consequences for their actions."

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Three of the individuals targeted in Thursday's sanctions were Saud Al-Qahtani and Maher Mutreb, both of whom are top aides to Salman, and Mohammed Alotaibi, consul general at the Istanbul consulate at the time Khashoggi was murdered.

The US treasury secretary said Qahtani "was part of the planning and execution of the operation" to kill Khashoggi. The secretary stopped short of accusing the crown prince of involvement.

The sanctions fall under the Department of the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) and were issued as part of the US Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act. Such sanctions freeze targets' assets if they fall under US jurisdiction. The sanctions also forbid Americans and US companies from conducting business with them.

Mnuchin's statement also said: "The Government of Saudi Arabia must take appropriate steps to end any targeting of political dissidents or journalists."

Trouble with the Turks

The case has caused a row between the kingdom and Turkey, whose government insists the suspects should be tried in Turkey. Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu called the Saudi prosecutor's statement "positive but insufficient," insisting that Khashoggi's murder was "premeditated."

Cavusoglu said the Thursday announcement by Saudi Arabia's top prosecutor fell short of his own country's expectations: "I want to say that we did not find some of his explanations to be satisfactory" and that "those who gave the order, the real perpetrators, need to be revealed. This process cannot be closed down in this way."  

Cavusoglu also questioned why Saudi Arabia had only indicted 11 of the 18 suspects detained. He pointed out that the Saudi prosecutor made no mention of where Khashoggi's remains were taken: "There is a question that has not been answered yet.

Where is Khashoggi's body? Where was he disposed of, where was he buried, where was he burned? There is still not an answer on this issue."

js,ng/sms (AP, dpa, Reuters)

Jamal Khashoggi: A mysterious disappearance and death

Vanishes into thin air

October 2: Prominent journalist Jamal Khashoggi was last seen entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, where he had gone to obtain an official document for his upcoming marriage to his Turkish fiancee, Hatice Cengiz. He never emerged from the building, prompting Cengiz, who waited outside, to raise the alarm.

Jamal Khashoggi: A mysterious disappearance and death

Confusion over whereabouts

October 3: Turkish and Saudi officials came up with conflicting reports on Khashoggi's whereabouts. Riyadh said the journalist had left the mission shortly after his work was done. But Turkish presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said the journalist was still in the consulate.

Jamal Khashoggi: A mysterious disappearance and death

Murder claims

October 6: Turkish officials said they believed the journalist was likely killed inside the Saudi consulate. The Washington Post, for which Khashoggi wrote, cited unnamed sources to report that Turkish investigators believe a 15-member team "came from Saudi Arabia" to kill the man.

Jamal Khashoggi: A mysterious disappearance and death

Ankara seeks proof

October 8: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called on Saudi Arabia to prove that Khashoggi left its consulate in Istanbul. Turkey also sought permission to search the mission premises. US President Donald Trump voiced concern about the journalist's disappearance.

Jamal Khashoggi: A mysterious disappearance and death

'Davos in the Desert' hit

October 12: British billionaire Richard Branson halted talks over a $1 billion Saudi investment in his Virgin group's space ventures, citing Khashoggi's case. He also pulled out of an investment conference in Riyadh dubbed the "Davos in the Desert." His move was followed by Uber's Dara Khosrowshahi, JP Morgan's Jamie Dimon and a host of other business leaders.

Jamal Khashoggi: A mysterious disappearance and death

Search operation

October 15: Turkish investigators searched the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. The search lasted more than eight hours and investigators removed samples from the building, including soil from the consulate garden and a metal door, one official said.

Jamal Khashoggi: A mysterious disappearance and death

Death after fistfight

October 19: Saudi Arabia finally admitted that Khashoggi died at the consulate. The kingdom's public prosecutor said preliminary investigations showed the journalist was killed in a "fistfight." He added that 18 people had been detained. A Saudi Foreign Ministry official said the country is "investigating the regrettable and painful incident."

Jamal Khashoggi: A mysterious disappearance and death

'Grave mistake'

October 21: Saudi Arabia provided yet another account of what happened to Khashoggi. The kingdom's foreign minister admitted the journalist was killed in a "rogue operation," calling it a "huge and grave mistake," but insisted that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had not been aware of the murder. Riyadh said it had no idea where Khashoggi's body was.

Jamal Khashoggi: A mysterious disappearance and death

Germany halts arms sales

October 21: German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Germany would put arms exports to Saudi Arabia on hold for the time being, given the unexplained circumstances of Khashoggi's death. Germany is the fourth largest exporter of weapons to Saudi Arabia after the United States, Britain and France.

Jamal Khashoggi: A mysterious disappearance and death

Strangled to death, dissolved in acid

October 31: The Turkish prosecutor concluded that Khashoggi was strangled to death soon after entering the consulate, and was then dismembered. Another Turkish official later claimed the body was dissolved in acid. Turkish President Erdogan said the order to murder the journalist came from "the highest levels" of Saudi Arabia's government.

Jamal Khashoggi: A mysterious disappearance and death

Grilled at the UN

November 5: Saudi Arabia told the United Nations it would prosecute those responsible for Khashoggi's murder. This came as the United States and dozens of other countries raised the journalist's death before the UN Human Rights Council and called for a transparent investigation.

Jamal Khashoggi: A mysterious disappearance and death

Fiancee in mourning

November 8: Khashoggi's fiancee, Hatice Cengiz, wrote on Twitter that she was "unable to express her sorrow" upon learning that the journalist's body was dissolved with chemicals. "Are these killers and those behind it human beings?" she tweeted.

Jamal Khashoggi: A mysterious disappearance and death

Turkey shares audio recordings

November 10: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reveals that officials from Saudi Arabia, the US, Germany, France and Britain have listened to audio recordings related to the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

Jamal Khashoggi: A mysterious disappearance and death

Symbolic funeral prayers

November 16: A symbolic funeral prayer for Khashoggi is held in the courtyard of the Fatih Mosque in Istanbul. Yasin Aktay, advisor to President Erdogan, speaks at the service.

Jamal Khashoggi: A mysterious disappearance and death

Saudi-owned villas searched

November 26: Turkish forensic police bring the investigation to the Turkish province of Yalova, where sniffer dogs and drones search two Saudi-owned villas in the village Samanli.

Jamal Khashoggi: A mysterious disappearance and death

100 days since killing

January 10: Amnesty International Turkey members demonstrate outside the Saudi Arabia Consulate in Istanbul, marking 100 day since the killing of Jamal Khashoggi. One woman holds up a street sign which reads "Jamal Khashoggi Street". The organization has called for an international investigation into the case.

Jamal Khashoggi: A mysterious disappearance and death

Saudi murder trial begins

January 3: The Khashoggi trial begins in Saudi Arabia, where state prosecutors say they will seek the death sentence for five of the eleven suspects. A request for the gathered evidence has been send to Turkish authorities. A date for the second hearing has not yet been set.

Jamal Khashoggi: A mysterious disappearance and death

UN inquiry team in Turkey

January 28: Agnes Callamard, who is leading the UN probe into the handling of the Khashoggi case, arrives in Ankara where she meets with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu. The human rights expect will stay in the country for the rest of the week to speak with prosecutors and others involved in the case.