RIYADH/BEIRUT – A former Saudi royal adviser and ex-senior intelligence official played key roles in the mission that ultimately led to the killing of government critic Jamal Khashoggi, and authorities will seek the death penalty for five people who confessed to the murder, according to a top official in the kingdom.
Sheikh Shalan al-Shalan, the deputy attorney general, said that 11 people out of 21 held have been charged over Khashoggi’s murder at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who runs the day-to-day affairs of the world’s top oil exporter, had no knowledge of the mission, al-Shalan and Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said at separate news conferences.
“This was individuals exceeding their authority and going beyond their mandate, and these individuals made a tremendous mistake and for that mistake they will pay a price,” al-Jubeir said. “The notion that somebody 6,000 miles away can determine guilt without having access to the facts, based on hearsay and based on leaks in newspapers, to me doesn’t sound fair.”
The accounts presented on Wednesday appeared designed to isolate Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman from the murder, which has provoked a global outcry and tarnished the image of the 33-year-old royal, whose efforts to cast himself as a bolder reformer and trusted U.S. ally have often chafed against his policies abroad and political crackdown at home.
On Thursday, the U.S. announced additional limited sanctions against the kingdom, restricting the access of 17 Saudi officials “involved in the abhorrent killing” to the U.S. financial system and freezing their assets. One of the officials was Saud al-Qahtani, a senior adviser to Prince Mohammed who was removed after the killing.
The latest Saudi account of what happened to Khashoggi was quickly dismissed by Turkey, with Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu calling the statements “unsatisfactory” and demanding the “real instigator” of the murder be identified.
Turkey has shared an audio recording of the killing with the U.S., France, Canada, Germany and the U.K., but it has stopped just short of blaming Prince Mohammed. On Wednesday it called for an international investigation into the case.
The Saudi prosecutor said Khashoggi was killed by the injection of a “large dose” of an anesthetic drug after a fight that ended with him being restrained. He also confirmed Turkish reports that Khashoggi’s body was cut up and that a body double later threw the columnist’s clothes, watch and glasses in a dumpster.
Saudi Arabia stuck by its earlier narrative that the Washington Post columnist was killed after a mission to bring him home went awry. The deputy chief of intelligence ordered that Khashoggi be brought back to the kingdom by persuasion or by force, al-Shalan said. A team of 15 people was formed to carry out the job, he added.
The initial plan had been to move Khashoggi to a safe house, but at some point that was ruled out and he was killed after efforts to persuade him to return to the kingdom failed, al-Shalan said.
Asked whether al-Qahtani, the aide to Prince Mohammed, had any role in the case, al-Shalan said that a former royal adviser had a coordinating role and had provided information. The adviser believed that Khashoggi had been co-opted by organizations and countries hostile to the kingdom “and his presence abroad represented a danger to national security,” the prosecutor said.
The adviser was now under investigation, the prosecutor said, declining to reveal the names of any of those facing charges. The prosecution “demands the death penalty for those who ordered and executed the killing and they’re five people,” he said.
The leader of the operation and others involved agreed to send a falsified report that Khashoggi had left the consulate, he added. Prince Mohammed, in his first remarks about the Khashoggi case on Oct. 3, told Bloomberg that Khashoggi had left the premises.
Saudi Arabia asked Turkey to share the results of its investigation and recordings of the killing, and is planning to sign a “special mechanism” to ensure this happens, al-Shalan said. “The prosecution is still waiting for Turkey to hand over what was asked of them,” he said. Last month, Turkish officials accused Attorney General Saud al-Mojeb of being uncooperative during a visit to Istanbul.