US welcomes Saudi indictments in Khashoggi case as ‘good first step’

Saudi prosecutors called for the death penalty against five people accused of murdering Khashoggi inside the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate.
Friday 16/11/2018
A member of security staff stands at the entrance of Saudi Arabia's consulate in Istanbul, Turkey October 28. (Reuters)
A member of security staff stands at the entrance of Saudi Arabia's consulate in Istanbul, Turkey October 28. (Reuters)

LONDON – The United States welcomed the first indictments Thursday in the Saudi probe into the murder of Jamal Khashoggi as a “good first step,” while urging Riyadh to pursue its investigations.

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said there had been no prior coordination with the United States.

“We regard the announcement that they made as a good first step, it’s a step in the right direction,” Nauert told reporters.

“It is an initial investigation finding. It is important that those steps continue to be taken toward full accountability.”

The US Treasury Department announced sanctions against 17 Saudi officials over Khashoggi’s killing. 

Among those sanctioned were Saud al-Qahtani, who has been removed from his position as an aide to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and the Saudi Consul General Mohammad al-Otaibi. The list also included Maher Mutreb and members of a 15-person team Turkey has identified as being involved.

The US Treasury said Qahtani "was part of the planning and execution of the operation" to kill Khashoggi.

Saudi Arabia on Thursday called for the death penalty against five people accused of murdering Khashoggi inside the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate, but absolved Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of any blame.

Riyadh prosecutors announced indictments against 11 people and said a total of 21 individuals were in custody in connection with the killing.

The Saudi prosecutor said execution would be recommended for five principals who "are charged with ordering and committing the crime."

But prosecutor spokesman Shaalan al-Shaalan rejected allegations that Prince Mohammed, whose father is King Salman, directed the murder.

The prince had "no knowledge" of Khashoggi's killing, Shaalan said.

And Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir told journalists in Riyadh that the prince was not involved.

"Absolutely. The crown prince has nothing to do with this issue," Jubeir said.

Jubeir Thursday dismissed calls for an international probe.

"This is now a legal case and is thus in the hands of Saudi Arabia's judiciary," he said.

Khashoggi, who lived in the United States and wrote for The Washington Post and other international media, was killed and dismembered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey on October 2.

The Saudi prosecutor said agents were dispatched to Istanbul to bring Khashoggi home "by means of persuasion" but ended up killing him with "a large amount of a drug resulting in an overdose."

The Saudi prosecutor did not name any of those indicted in the murder. 

On Thursday, the Saudi prosecutor’s office said it had on two occasions formally requested from Ankara to “provide evidence and information, including any audio recordings in the possession of the Turkish authorities related to the case.”

“The Public Prosecutor has also requested the brotherly Turkish authorities to sign a special cooperation mechanism specific to this case in order to provide them with the results of the investigation; pursuant to Saudi law, and to obtain relevant evidence and information in possession of the Turkish authorities to assist with the investigation,” read a statement from the official Saudi press agency, SPA. 

“The Public Prosecutor is still awaiting a response to these requests,” the statement added. 

(AW and agencies)