Wednesday, 17 Jul 2024

U.S. Levels Sanctions on 17 Saudis for Alleged Involvement in Khashoggi Killing

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration announced sanctions on Thursday against 17 Saudis accused of involvement in the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi dissident and journalist.

The sanctions come just hours after Saudi Arabia’s public prosecutor announced that he was requesting the death penalty for five people suspected of involvement in the killing, which took place in Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2.

[Read: The kingdom’s public prosecutor said the operation was not ordered from the top and had not been intended to kill the dissident.]

Although the new Saudi explanation of the killing, as well as the associated charges, appeared to contradict previous statements from both the Saudi government and senior Trump administration officials, the twin announcements in Riyadh and Washington may be part of an ongoing effort in both capitals to put the case behind them.

In Riyadh, the hope is that the latest explanation will protect Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman from growing questions about whether he is suited to rule. In Washington, the Trump administration is hoping to forestall congressional proposals to restrict arms sales to or military operations with Riyadh, which have arisen in large part because of growing fury at the humanitarian crisis in Yemen during a Saudi-led military campaign there.

“The Saudi officials we are sanctioning were involved in the abhorrent killing of Jamal Khashoggi,” said Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

He added: “The United States continues to diligently work to ascertain all of the facts and will hold accountable each of those we find responsible in order to achieve justice for Khashoggi’s fiancée, children, and the family he leaves behind.”

The individuals sanctioned include those who were part of the team of Saudis that arrived in Istanbul in the hours around Mr. Khashoggi’s arrival in the consulate there and his subsequent disappearance.

Mr. Khashoggi was killed in the Saudi consulate, where he had gone to get documents for an imminent marriage. The team killed and dismembered Mr. Khashoggi, according to Turkish officials who cited an audio recording of it. Turkish and American intelligence officials say they believe top officials in Saudi Arabia sent the team, and the C.I.A. director was presented with audio evidence of the killing on a recent trip to Turkey.

The announcement by the United States Treasury Department named Saud al-Qahtani, a senior official close to Prince Mohammed, and it said he was “part of the planning and execution of the operation that led to the killing of Mr. Khashoggi.”

Mr. Qahtani, the most senior official named, ran media operations inside the royal court. He accrued power after Prince Mohammed took de facto control of the kingdom. United States and Saudi officials say Mr. Qahtani was the strategist behind coordinated online harassment of the kingdom’s critics, including of Mr. Khashoggi. Those operations took place on Twitter and other platforms.

Mr. Qahtani, who has a Twitter following of 1.35 million, was among a handful of officials fired by superiors last month, presumably at the orders of the prince, as it became apparent that the Saudi government had botched the cover-up of the Khashoggi murder.

The announcement also said the murder was coordinated and carried out by Maher Mutreb, a subordinate of Mr. Qahtani. Mr. Mutreb is also a close associate of the prince and is in numerous photographs and videos taken of the prince and his entourage on global trips.

The announcement named 14 other officials it said took part in the operation, and also named Mohammed Alotaibi, the consul general in Istanbul at the time of the killing

[The suspects in Mr. Khashoggi’s death had close ties to Prince Mohammed.]

The sanctions will freeze financial assets of the targets if under United States jurisdiction and prohibit transactions with the individuals. It also prevents them from traveling to the United States. The sanctions are being placed under the Global Magnitsky Act, a 2016 law that calls for sanctions against foreigners whose actions outside of the United States are so egregious that they threaten international stability.

The United States has been trying to formulate a way to punish Saudi officials for the crime without breaking relations with Prince Mohammed or taking actions that would lead to his ouster.

Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and senior Middle East adviser, has developed close ties with the prince and has been pushing for the administration to keep backing him.

Last week, the United States and Saudi Arabia said that the Saudi-led coalition waging a war in Yemen would no longer benefit from the support of the United States military for refueling in the Gulf region.

The assassination of Mr. Khashoggi, a Virginia resident who wrote columns for The Washington Post that were critical of some Saudi policies, has caused widespread international outrage and the largest foreign relations crisis for the kingdom since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

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