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Saudi Crown Prince Shielded as Death Penalty Sought Over Khashoggi Murder
Thursday, 15 November 2018 13:48

Chulov writes: "Saudi Arabia says it will pursue the death penalty for five suspects charged with ordering and carrying out the killing of the Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi, in the latest effort to distance the country's de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, from the grisly murder."

Demonstrators rally for justice for Jamal Khashoggi. (photo: Getty)
Demonstrators rally for justice for Jamal Khashoggi. (photo: Getty)

Saudi Crown Prince Shielded as Death Penalty Sought Over Khashoggi Murder

By Martin Chulov, Guardian UK

15 November 18

Saudi prosecutor recommends death penalty for five suspects over killing of journalist in Istanbul consulate in October

audi Arabia says it will pursue the death penalty for five suspects charged with ordering and carrying out the killing of the Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi, in the latest effort to distance the country’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, from the grisly murder.

The Saudi public prosecutor claimed that Saudi agents, including the head of forensics at the national intelligence service and members of Prince Mohammed’s security detail, had orders to abduct Khashoggi but decided to kill him when he resisted. The claim had been contradicted by an earlier Saudi finding that the murder was premeditated.

Prince Mohammed was not implicated in the murder, a spokesman for the prosecutor said. Turkey has been formally asked to hand over audio tapes that allegedly capture the journalist’s death, he added.

Hours later, the US Treasury said it was imposing sanctions against 17 alleged conspirators, in an announcement that appeared timed to support the Saudi version of events. The Trump administration has attempted to shield Prince Mohammed from blame, and sponsored the theory that “rogue actors” had carried out the plot without his knowledge.

The announcements follow growing international outcry over the killing of Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist last seen entering the consulate on 2 October to obtain paperwork for his marriage.

Almost seven weeks later, who ordered the exiled journalist’s death remains central to the scandal. Turkey believes that approval was given by the Prince Mohammed himself, and has continued its efforts to isolate the designated heir to the throne through a damning drip feed of evidence that has placed the conspiracy at the doors of the Royal Court.

On Thursday Turkey’s foreign minister, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, described the Saudi statement as insufficient and insisted that the killing had been premeditated. “The necessary equipment and people were previously brought in to kill and later dismember him,” he said.

Saudi prosecutors say 21 of its officials have been indicted – including the 15-man hit team as well as crews alleged to have carried out reconnaissance before the murder.

Ankara and Riyadh have been conducting a joint investigation into Khashoggi’s death. However, Turkish officials accuse their Saudi counterparts of stonewalling on the whereabouts of his body, and sending a forensic team disguised as investigators, who, rather than investigating the murder, attempted to scrub the consulate of Khashoggi’s DNA.

Sheikh Shalan al-Shalan, Saudi Arabia’s deputy attorney-general, claimed on Thursday that the murder was ordered by one man who had been tasked with kidnapping, not killing Khashoggi. He said the kidnap attempts quickly turned violent “so he decided to kill him in the moment”.

The claim that the death was not premeditated are starkly at odds with earlier versions of events endorsed by Saudi officials. Turkey says it holds audio recordings that prove Khashoggi was strangled, then dismembered within minutes of being lured into the consulate. A search for his remains in an Istanbul forest has been unsuccessful. However, biological evidence of the murder is understood to have been found at the nearby consul general’s residence.

Investigators are working on the assumption that a second phase of the murder operation was carried out in the garage of the official residence, where Khashoggi’s body parts were dissolved in acid and poured down drains and into a garden well.

Turkey is yet to publicly table full transcripts of the audio tapes it says depict the killing, or reveal how the recordings were made. However, they have been widely shared with allied intelligence agencies and even played to a Saudi agent, according to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who is leading the diplomatic offensive against Prince Mohammed.

Erdoğan has said the order to murder Khashoggi came from “the highest levels” of the Saudi government. The former head of MI6, Sir John Sawers, has described Saudi claims that Prince Mohammed was unaware of the murder plot as a “blatant fiction”.

The US, meanwhile, remains wedded to its ties with Prince Mohammed, whom it sees as a pivotal ally in the region both as a bulwark against Iran and an outreach to Israel. Trade ties are also central to the considerations of Donald Trump, whose son in law, Jared Kushner, has formed a close relationship with the Crown Prince.

Global condemnation that has followed Khashoggi’s murder has diminished Prince Mohammed in the eyes of other international partners. The fallout poses the greatest threat to the kingdom since the 9/11 attacks, in which 15 of the 19 hijackers who attacked the twin towers and Pentagon were Saudi citizens.

The US national security adviser, John Bolton, said earlier this week that nothing on the tapes incriminates the crown prince. Turkey has hinted that separate, as yet undisclosed material it is holding brings the killing to the doorstep of the royal court, from where Prince Mohammed’s most influential domestic aide, Saud al-Qahtani, has been forced to leave. Qahtani is accused of being the figure who organised the hit squad. The crown prince’s critics, and even some loyalists inside the kingdom, say it is inconceivable that such an operation could have been ordered without his authority.

In the last 18 months of his life, which he had lived in exile mainly in Washington, Khashoggi had been an influential critic of some aspects of Prince Mohammed’s reform programme. An insider turned outsider, he had used the powerful platform of his column at the Washington Post to pen pointed critiques and political observations that had made him one of the Arab world’s most influential pundits.

He had been an advocate of political Islam, which is viewed by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates as a subversive threat, and had defied overtures from al-Qahtani to return to Riyadh.

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