Saudi Arabia Seeks Death Penalty for 5 Suspects in Khashoggi Killing
BEIRUT, Lebanon — Saudi Arabia’s public prosecutor on Thursday formally requested the death penalty for five suspects in the killing of the Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi, but provided no new information about the murder or the investigation into how it happened.
The killing of Mr. Khashoggi inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul has badly tarnished the international reputation of the kingdom and of its crown prince and day-to-day ruler, Mohammed bin Salman.
After weeks of insisting that Mr. Khashoggi had left the consulate alive on Oct. 2, the kingdom finally acknowledged in November that its agents had killed and dismembered him, and vowed to hold the perpetrators accountable.
After the first court session in the case on Thursday, the public prosecutor’s office released a statement saying that it had requested the death penalty for five of the 11 suspects charged.
It did not provide any of the suspects’ names, or any details about what role they might have played in the crime. Nor did the statement explain why the prosecutor had sought the death penalty against some but not others.
Turkish officials and investigations by The New York Times have found that Mr. Khashoggi’s killing was the result of a complex operation that involved at least 15 agents who flew into Turkey specifically for the job, many of them closely connected to Prince Mohammed.
They included intelligence agents who had traveled with the crown prince, a physician who specialized in autopsies and brought a bone saw, and a body double who donned Mr. Khashoggi’s clothes and walked around Istanbul seeking to leave a false trail of evidence that he was still alive.
Saudi Arabia has insisted that despite the complexity of the operation, the decision to kill Mr. Khashoggi, 59, was made by the team on the ground and had not been ordered by their superiors in Riyadh.
Mr. Khashoggi had been close to the Saudi royal family before Prince Mohammed’s rise to power. He moved to the United States and became a public critic of the Saudi government, writing columns for The Washington Post.
Demonstrating that it will hold accountable those responsible for Mr. Khashoggi’s killing is expected to be a crucial part of the kingdom’s efforts to move past the scandal, which has complicated its foreign relations and scared off Western investors it was counting on to support its cultural and economic reform plans.
But it remains unclear whether the trial, and the lack of public information about the legal proceedings, will quell worries in the West about Saudi Arabia’s respect for the rule of law. The kingdom’s courts enforce a strict interpretation of Shariah law, the legal code of Islam based on the Quran, but are also easily influenced by the country’s royal leaders, critics say.
While the Trump administration, which considers the kingdom under Prince Mohammed’s leadership an important ally in the Middle East, has stood by the prince, United States intelligences services and members of Congress believe that he ordered the killing.
The Saudi statement did not say when the next hearing in the case would take place. It said the suspects appeared with their lawyers, were given copies of the charges against them and asked for time to prepare their defenses.
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