March 25, 2020 / 8:14 AM / 3 days ago

Istanbul prosecutor indicts Saudi suspects for Khashoggi killing

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Istanbul prosecutors said on Wednesday they had prepared an indictment against a close aide to Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and a former deputy head of general intelligence over the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

FILE PHOTO: The Committee to Protect Journalists and other press freedom activists hold a candlelight vigil in front of the Saudi Embassy to mark the anniversary of the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the kingdom's consulate in Istanbul in Washington, U.S., October 2, 2019. REUTERS/Sarah Silbiger

The prosecutor’s office accused the two men of instigating Khashoggi’s murder at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul and named 18 suspects it said actually carried out the killing, which caused a global uproar.

Khashoggi was last seen entering the consulate on Oct. 2, 2018, where he had gone to obtain documents for his impending wedding. Turkish officials said his body was dismembered and removed from the building. His remains have not been found.

The list of 18 suspected killers includes a 15-strong team which flew to Turkey to carry out the operation, and three intelligence officials.

The indictment accuses former deputy head of Saudi Arabia’s general intelligence Ahmed al-Asiri and former royal court adviser Saud al-Qahtani of having “instigated premeditated murder with monstrous intent”, the prosecutor’s office said.

It says the others suffocated Khashoggi, who had grown increasingly critical of Prince Mohammed’s actions, after agreeing in advance that he should be killed if he did not return to Saudi Arabia with them.

Saudi Arabia’s media ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Some Western governments, as well as the CIA, have said they believed Prince Mohammed, Saudi Arabia’s de facto leader and heir to the throne, ordered the killing - an accusation Saudi officials have denied.

Agnes Callamard, the U.N. investigator who led an international probe into the crime, welcomed the indictment, saying it was needed as a “counter balance to the travesty of justice at the hands of Saudi Arabia”.

In a statement to Reuters, she urged U.S. authorities to release their findings on responsibility for the death of the Washington Post columnist, “including the responsibility of Saudi Arabia Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman”.

Callamard said in a report last June that evidence suggested the crown prince and other senior Saudi officials were liable. On Wednesday, she said that the indictment would shed further light on the murder, “its premeditation and instigation by high-level officials”.

SUSPECTS STILL FREE

The senior suspects accused by Turkey are still free, although both Qahtani and Asiri were dismissed from their positions after Khashoggi’s killing.

Asiri was subsequently tried in Saudi Arabia but released due to insufficient evidence, a Saudi prosecutor said. Qahtani was investigated but was not charged. Sources have said he remained active in state matters.

In December a Saudi court sentenced five people to death and three to jail for Khashoggi’s killing in a trial which Callamard described as a mockery of justice because it did not target those she described as the masterminds of the operation.

The court did not identify those sentenced to death.

Khashoggi’s fiancee Hatice Cengiz, who was waiting for him outside the consulate when he was killed, also called on Washington to publish a defense intelligence report into the killing. Every independent investigation had concluded that “this barbaric murder...was premeditated, carried out by government officials and involved the royal court”, she said.

Wednesday’s indictment was based on analysis of suspects’ phone records, their entry and exit into Turkey and presence at the consulate, witness statements and analysis of Khashoggi’s phone and computers, the prosecutor’s office said.

FILE PHOTO: Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi speaks at an event hosted by Middle East Monitor in London, Britain, September 29, 2018. Picture taken September 29, 2018. Middle East Monitor/Handout via REUTERS

Khashoggi’s killing, which Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan said was ordered at the “highest levels” of the Saudi government, has strained ties between Ankara and Riyadh.

Turkey accused Saudi officials of obstructing investigations, while Riyadh repeatedly said the Istanbul prosecutor has not complied with requests to share information.

Prince Mohammed has denied ordering the killing but said he bore ultimate responsibility as the kingdom’s de facto leader. Saudi Arabia initially denied any involvement in or knowledge of Khashoggi’s death but later changed its position multiple times.

Additional reporting by Stephen Kalin in Riyadh, Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva and Yesim Dikmen in Istanbul; Writing by Dominic Evans; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky

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