Saudi Arabia’s public prosecutor said on Thursday that the death penalty is being sought against five suspects in journalist Jamal Khashoggi's murder last month in Istanbul’s consulate.
Deputy public prosecutor and spokesman Shaalan al-Shaalan told reporters at a press conference that Khashoggi was killed in the country’s Istanbul consulate last month, by a lethal injection dose and his body was torn apart and taken outside the building.
Prior to his death, the prominent Saudi writer had been living in self-imposed exile in Washington, fearing retribution for his critical views on the kingdom’s policies.
Shaalan said, without naming the five: “The Public Prosecutor has requested the death penalty for five individuals who are 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 the investigation is continuing to decide their role in the crime.
The US Treasury announced sanctions, after the press conference, on 17 Saudis for their role in the killing, including Saud al-Qahtani, a former top aide to Prince Mohammed, and Istanbul Consul General Mohammed Alotaibi.
Shalaan said Khashoggi was murdered after "negotiations" for his return to the kingdom failed, and that the killing was ordered by the lead negotiator after he decided it was unfeasible to remove him from the consulate.
Shalaan said the order to repatriate Khashoggi came from former deputy intelligence chief Ahmed al-Asiri, who was sacked last month.
He said Prince Mohammed "did not have any knowledge" of the killing, a stance reiterated by Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir, who accused Turkey of ignoring Saudi requests for information.
He said a travel ban had been imposed on Qahtani, who coordinated with Asiri, meeting the operatives ahead of their journey to Istanbul to brief them on Khashoggi's activities.
Qahtani has already been fired from the royal court, but four sources based in the Gulf have told reporters that he is still at liberty and continues to operate discreetly.
A senior government official previously identified the head of the negotiating team as Maher Mutreb, an aide to Qahtani who has appeared in photographs with Prince Mohammed on official foreign visits this year.
Turkey is trying to add pressure on Prince Mohammed, revealing a stream of evidence that undermined Riyadh's early denials, six weeks after the murder.
Shaalan said that the well-known critic of Saudi policy was killed after “negotiations” for his return to the kingdom failed and that the person who planned the killing was the head of the negotiating team was planning to send Khashoggi home.
He also confirmed that the location of Khashoggi’s body is still unknown. Saudi Arabia gave many contradictory reasons for Khashoggi’s disappearance before saying he was murdered in a rogue operation.
Saudi Arabia's foreign minister said on Thursday, that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had "absolutely nothing to do" with Khashoggi's death.
Asked about possible international sanctions in response to the case, Adel al-Jubeir told reporters there was a difference between sanctioning individuals and holding the Saudi government responsible
Turkey not satisfied
Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told reporters he wasn’t satisfied with Al-Shaalan's comments at the press conference held in Riyadh.
“I don't find some comments satisfying. They say this person was killed because he resisted, whereas this murder was premeditated," he said.
"Again, they say he was dismembered... but this isn't a spontaneous thing. The necessary equipment and people were previously brought in to kill and later dismember him."
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has said the murder was ordered at the "highest levels" of the Saudi government.
Cavusoglu also reiterated Turkey's call for Riyadh to disclose the location of Khashoggi's remains.
"Where is the body of the murdered Khashoggi? Where was it thrown, where was it burned?" he asked.
He did not confirm whether Turkey had proof that pointed to the body having been burned. Turkey has previously called for an examination into suspicions that the body was dissolved in acid.
Cavusoglu also reiterated Erdogan's demand that the suspects involved in the case should be on trial in Turkey, not Saudi Arabia.