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Saudi Arabia seeks death penalty for five accused in Khashoggi murder

Kemal Aslan, Reuters | Saudi public prosecutor Saud Al Mojeb leaves the Saudi consulate in Istanbul Oct. 30, 2018.

Five Saudi officials face the death penalty for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, but Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was not involved in the prominent journalist’s killing, the kingdom’s public prosecutor said Thursday.

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The announcement follows growing international outcry over the killing of Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist and critic of Saudi policy.

Khashoggi was killed in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2, after a struggle, by a lethal injection dose and his body was dismembered and taken out of the building, deputy public prosecutor and spokesman Shaalan al-Shaalan told reporters.

He said the Washington Post columnist was murdered after "negotiations" for his return to the kingdom failed and that the person who ordered the killing was the head of the negotiating team that was sent to Turkey to repatriate Khashoggi.

The whereabouts of Khashoggi's body remain unknown, he said.

Riyadh had offered numerous contradictory explanations for Khashoggi's disappearance before saying he was killed in a rogue operation, in a case that has sparked a global outcry, opened the kingdom to possible sanctions and tarnished the image of the young Saudi crown prince, known by his initials, MBS.

Turkish officials have accused Prince Mohammed of ordering the murder while President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the killing was ordered at the "highest levels" of the Saudi government.

An 11-member Saudi team that was flown into Istanbul the day before the killing conducted the murder, according to Turkish officials.

'Drugged, and then dismembered'

Speaking to reporters in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, on Thursday, the deputy public prosecutor said his office has requested the death penalty for five people who have been charged with “ordering and committing the crime and for the appropriate sentences for the other indicted individuals".

He said 11 out of 21 suspects have been indicted and that their cases will be referred to court, while the investigation with the remaining suspects will continue in order to determine their role in the crime.

Khashoggi died after being drugged and then dismembered, said Shaalaan in the first Saudi confirmation of how he was killed.

The journalist's body parts were then handed over to an agent outside the consulate grounds, the spokesman said.

The deputy chief of Saudi Arabia's intelligence, General Ahmed al-Assiri, gave the order to repatriate Khashoggi -- and "the head of the negotiating team" that flew to the Istanbul consulate had ordered his murder, the spokesman said.

A travel ban has been imposed on a top aide to the crown prince, Saud al-Qahtani, dubbed "Mr. Hashtag," while investigations continue over his role, Shaalan said, adding Qahtani had met the team ordered to repatriate Khashoggi ahead of their journey to Istanbul to brief them on the journalist's activities. Qahtani has already been fired from the royal court.

Turkey calls for international investigation

Turkey on Wednesday called for an international investigation into the murder.

Ankara has already shared voice recordings linked to the murder with a number of countries including Saudi Arabia, the United States and its Western allies.

Khashoggi's killing has plunged the world's top oil exporter into its worst diplomatic crisis since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, in which most of the hijackers were identified as Saudi nationals.

His murder has also led to increased scrutiny of Saudi Arabia's role in the Yemen war, which has pushed the impoverished country to the brink of famine.

The journalist went into self-imposed exile in the United States in 2017 after falling out with Prince Mohammed.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and REUTERS)

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