Saudi Arabia and its ally the United States have a problem: How do they respond to the murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi without implicating the country’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, despite some of his closest advisers apparently being involved in the operation?
Both countries took some action Thursday against those they said they suspected of being responsible for Khashoggi’s brutal murder and dismemberment . The U.S. Treasury Department slapped sanctions on 17 Saudis who it said had “targeted and brutally killed a journalist who resided and worked in the United States.” The people “were involved in the abhorrent killing of Jamal Khashoggi,” the Treasury Department said. The sanctions ban Americans from doing business with the 17 Saudis and allow the U.S. to freeze any of their assets under its jurisdiction.
One of those sanctioned was Saud Al-Qahtani, a former adviser to Prince Salman before he was caught up in the Khashoggi killing. The U.S. Treasury Department said he was “part of the planning and execution of the operation that led to the killing of Mr. Khashoggi in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey on October 2, 2018.”
But Al-Qahtani may have more serious problems at home. A Saudi prosecutor identified Al-Qahtani as one of the Saudi officials who helped plan what he described as an attempt to bring Khashoggi back to Saudi Arabia. The Saudi public prosecutor’s report on the slaying, released Thursday, said that Khashoggi was killed when an operation to move him from Turkey to Saudi Arabia went wrong. The prosecutor, according to the Washington Post, said that Prince Salman did not know about the plan. But Khashoggi had, before his fatal trip to Istanbul, gotten a call from Al-Qahtani hinting that he could get a job with the crown prince if he returned to Saudi Arabia.
Eleven people were indicted for being involved in the killing, and five could get the death penalty. The Saudi prosecutor did not identify those indicted and said that the decision to kill Khashoggi was made on the ground in Istanbul. How does that explain the presence of a forensic autopsy expert in the operation? “For the purpose of removing evidence from the scene in case force had to be used to return the victim,” the report said.
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