On Wednesday, March 25, 2020, Turkish prosecutors have formally charged 20 Saudi nationals over the murder of the dissident journalist Jamal KHASOGGI in the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul in 2018, including two men close to the crown prince, Mohammed bin SALMAN. The trial in absentia would be opened, but it was not giving a date. It had already issued arrest warrants for the suspects, who are not in Turkey. They face life in jail if convicted.
The indictment was based on analysis of cellphone records of the suspects, records of their entry and exit into Turkey and presence at the consulate, witness statements, and analysis of KHASOGGI’s phone, laptop, and iPad.
The former royal court adviser Saud al-QAHTANI and former deputy head of intelligence Ahmed al-ASSIRI were among the suspects charged with “instigating a premeditated murder with the intent of causing torment through fiendish instinct”, based on the office of the Istanbul chief prosecutor, Irfan FIDAN.
Eighteen other suspects then traveled to Istanbul and carried out QAHTANI and ASSIRI’s orders — a team of 15 men and three intelligence operative officers (Maher MUTREB, who frequently traveled with the crown prince on foreign tour; forensic expert Salah al-TUBAIGY; and Fahad al-BALAWI, a member of the Saudi royal guard) – were also charged with “deliberately and monstrously killing, causing torment.”
Saudi Arabia has rejected Turkish calls for the suspects’ return to face trial in Turkey.
KHASOGGI, who was himself a member of the Saudi elite, broke with the royal family and moved to the US in 2017, where he became a vocal critic of the country as a columnist for the Washington Post. He went to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on 2 October 2018, seeking papers to marry his fiancée Hatice CENGIZ, and was never seen again.
Investigators believe that as she waited outside, the 59-year-old was murdered and then dismembered. KHASOGGI’s remains have never been found.
The Saudi prosecutors also ruled that there had been no premeditation to kill at the beginning of the repatriation mission, a finding at odds with a UN inquiry published in June 2019 and now the Turkish indictment.
Riyadh initially denied it had anything to do with KHASOGGI’s disappearance. However, after sustained leaks from Turkish intelligence that suggested high-level Saudi involvement, the kingdom eventually admitted government agents had carried out the killing.
MUTREB, al-TUBAIGY and al-BALAWI had been among 11 on trial in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, during which sources said many of those accused defended themselves by saying they were carrying out al-ASSIRI’s orders, describing him as the operation’s “ringleader.”
In December last year a Saudi court sentenced five unidentified people to death over KHASOGGI’s killing but in effect exonerated Prince Mohammed’s inner circle, while three others were slapped with prison terms totalling 24 years over the killing.
Agnes CALLAMARAND, the UN rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, has repeatedly called for an independent international investigation into the journalist’s death and she urged US authorities to release their findings on responsibility for it, “including the responsibility of Saudi Arabia Crown Prince Mohammed Bin SALMAN.”
The murder caused relations between Ankara and Riyadh — which have a longstanding geopolitical rivalry — to worsen. Saudis, who enjoy investing and holidaying in Turkey, were urged to boycott the country last year. Turkish President Recep Tayyip ERDOGAN has vowed Ankara will not give up the case.
The gruesome killing stunned Saudi Arabia’s western allies, plunging the kingdom into its worst diplomatic crisis since the 9/11 attacks.
CIA, along with several western governments, eventually concluded that the crown prince had ordered KHASOGGI’s assassination.
This story contains reporting from AFP, the Guardian, Al-Monitor, Times of Israel, Deutsche Welle, and BBC.
Photo’s source: “The Times”.