Saudi Arabia’s public prosecutor is calling for the death penalty for five people accused of being involved in the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, the journalist and critic of the royal regime who died at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
Saudi al-Mojeb issued a statement saying that his office has indicted 11 suspects, adding that the prosecutor “has requested the death penalty for (5) individuals who are charged with ordering and committing the crime.”
Al-Mojeb called Khashoggi’s death a murder — but he said the Washington Post columnist died after being “forcibly restrained and injected with a large amount of a drug resulting in an overdose.”
The Saudi prosecutor “says that Khashoggi’s killers planned his death three days before the journalist entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul,” NPR’s Jackie Northam reports. “He says the highest-level official behind the killing is Ahmad al-Assiri, an adviser to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.”
Up until last month, Assiri held the rank of major general; was the deputy chief of Saudi intelligence; and served as a military spokesman for the Saudi campaign in Yemen. He was fired on Oct. 20, as the Saudi regime scrambled to respond to widespread criticism and calls for transparency in the case.
Al-Mojeb also said 21 suspects are now in custody — representing a remarkable turnabout from the country’s initial denials of any involvement.
Immediately after Khashoggi disappeared on Oct. 2, Saudi officials claimed he had left the consulate on his own. But the Saudis’ story shifted several times, particularly after Turkish officials, including President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said Khashoggi had been “brutally murdered” in an operation that involved a team of more than a dozen Saudis who had traveled to Istanbul just before Khashoggi was killed.
Saudi officials have suggested Khashoggi might have died in a fight at the consulate; Turkish officials say he was strangled and that his body was dismembered for secret disposal. Khashoggi’s remains have not been found.
On Thursday, the Saudi prosecutor confirmed part of the timeline Turkey has laid out, saying a 15-member team had been deployed to Turkey with orders to “bring back the victim by means of persuasion, and if persuasion fails, to do so by force.”
The Saudi version of events has met with international skepticism that centers on Prince Mohammed, who has shown a drive to silence dissent as he consolidates power.
In a statement released Thursday, the Saudi prosecutor’s office said it has asked Turkey to share evidence it has gathered, “including any audio recordings” — an apparent reference to the surveillance recordings that Turkish officials have cited as proof that Khashoggi’s killing was a premeditated murder.
Over the weekend, Erdogan said that his country had shared the audio recordings with a number of countries, including the U.S., France, Germany and Saudi Arabia.
Days after Erdogan spoke, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau became the first Western leader to acknowledge that his country’s intelligence services had received the recordings from Turkey.