Saudi Arabia distances crown prince from Khashoggi killing
ISTANBUL — Saudi Arabia’s public prosecutor released the findings of a long-awaited investigation of the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi on Thursday, saying that a team of Saudi agents dispatched to Istanbul with orders to bring him home alive had instead killed the journalist and dismembered his body.
Saudi Arabia’s crown prince had no knowledge of the operation, Shaalan al-Shaalan, a spokesman for the prosecutor, said at a news conference in Riyadh, the Saudi capital.
He said that 11 suspects have been indicted and that authorities are seeking the death penalty for five of them. None of the suspects were named. The order to kill Khashoggi, who had criticized the Saudi monarchy over the past year, came from one of the leaders of the Saudi team in Istanbul, Shaalan said.
Prosecutor Saud al-Mojeb’s conclusion — that the killing was authorized by relatively low-level officials who disobeyed orders and acted on the fly — contradicted assertions by Turkish investigators, who have said it was a meticulously planned operation, with elaborate preparations to cover up the crime that included scouting locations where Khashoggi’s body could be disposed of in secret.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey said the slaying was premeditated and the orders came from ‘‘the highest levels of the Saudi government,’’ without specifying exactly who was responsible.
Turkey has called for an international investigation into the killing. On Thursday, its foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, said that some of the latest Saudi statements about the killing were not ‘‘satisfactory.’’
‘‘This is not something that happens instantaneously,’’ he said. ‘‘People and tools were brought to dismember the body.’’
Khashoggi, a contributing columnist to The Washington Post, was killed Oct. 2, soon after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to obtain documents he needed to remarry.
The US Treasury said Thursday that it would impose sanctions on 17 individuals linked to the ‘‘abhorrent killing.’’ On the list was Saud al-Qahtani, a close adviser to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and the consul general of the Istanbul mission, Mohammed al-Otaibi.
‘‘These individuals who targeted and brutally killed a journalist who resided and worked in the United States must face consequences for their actions,’’ the Treasury said in a statement.
Officials in several countries have said it is unlikely that Khashoggi was killed without the knowledge of the crown prince, Saudi Arabia’s de facto leader. But there is no definitive evidence that Mohammed ordered the operation. Saudi officials deny that the crown prince was in any way responsible for Khashoggi’s death.
‘‘He did not have any knowledge,’’ Shaalan said Thursday.
Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir described the killing as a ‘‘mistake’’ and denied any involvement on the part of Mohammed. ‘‘His royal highness the crown prince has nothing to do with this issue,’’ he told reporters in Riyadh.
Mojeb’s statement Thursday implicated two higher-level officials in what the prosecutor said was an operation intended either to persuade or force Khashoggi to return to Saudi Arabia. One of them, Ahmed al-Assiri, a former deputy head of intelligence, issued an order for Khashoggi’s return on Sept. 29, the prosecutor said. That was one day after Khashoggi first visited the Saudi consulate and was told to return the following week.
Qahtani, on the US sanctions list Thursday, was also involved in planning Khashoggi’s repatriation, according to the prosecutor.
Saudi officials have changed their story about Khashoggi’s killing several times since he disappeared, first denying any knowledge of his whereabouts and then saying that he was killed during a fistfight.
In the latest version laid out by the prosecutor, a 15-member team was formed to bring Khashoggi back from Istanbul, ‘‘by means of persuasion, and if persuasion fails, to do so by force.’’ The team included a forensic expert ‘‘for the purpose of removing evidence from the scene in case force had to be used to return the victim,’’ according to a summary of the prosecutor’s statement that was e-mailed to reporters.
The leader of the Saudi team also contacted a collaborator in Turkey to secure a safe house in case Khashoggi was forcibly removed, the statement said. But after deciding that moving Khashoggi to a safe house would not be possible, a team leader decided to kill the journalist, according to the prosecutor.
‘‘The investigation concluded that the crime was carried out after a physical altercation with the victim where he was forcibly restrained and injected with a large amount of a drug resulting in an overdose that led to his death, may Allah bless his soul,’’ the statement said.
Khashoggi’s body was dismembered and then taken by one of the Saudi agents to the ‘‘local collaborator,’’ according to the prosecutor, who said a sketch of the collaborator has been produced.
Turkish officials have complained repeatedly about Saudi Arabia’s refusal to identify the collaborator and said they suspect that such a person does not exist. They have also demanded that the Saudis reveal the whereabouts of Khashoggi’s remains.
Turkey’s prosecutor said late last month that Khashoggi was strangled or suffocated as soon as he entered the consulate, in line with ‘‘premeditated plans.’’
Khashoggi’s eldest son, Salah Khashoggi, announced Thursday on Twitter that the family would receive condolence visits beginning Friday.