The shadow of a security member of the consulate is seen on the door of the Saudi Arabian consulate on 29 October 2018 (Ozan Kose / AFP)
Saudi Arabia is seeking the death penalty for five people convicted of killing prominent Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Saudi media reported on Thursday.
According to a press statement read by the deputy Saudi public prosecutor and spokesman Shaalan al-Shaalan, 11 defendants in the Khashoggi trial have been convicted in relation to the murder, which took place on 2 October at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
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Saudi authorities had said that 21 suspects were detained as part of the murder investigations. But the public prosecution said in its Thursday statement that only 11 of them had been indicted thus far, five of whom were charged with "ordering and committing the crime".
The prosecution made no direct mention of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman – commonly referred to as MBS – who, despite Saudi denials, is widely believed to have had knowledge of the plan to kill Khashoggi.
The Saudi version of events does not explain the presence of a forensic doctor specialised in speedy autopsies and equipped with a bone saw at the consulate.
The statement added that the sacked deputy chief of Saudi intelligence, Ahmed al-Assiri, had formed a team to repatriate Khashoggi to his home country, and that a former royal adviser had taken part in preparing the operation.
“The leader of the mission to repatriate Khashoggi decided to kill him when he failed to convince him to return,” Shaalan said.
In response to Saudi findings, Turkish Foreign Minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, said that Ankara is "not satisfied" and that it still believes the murder was pre-planned. He reiterated Turkey's call for an international investigation.
On Monday, the New York Times revealed that the suspected leader of the murder squad, Maher Abdulaziz Mutreb, instructed his superior to “tell your boss” that Khashoggi had been killed in one of four calls back to Riyadh on the day of the murder – a phrase that has been interpreted by the US newspaper as referring to MBS.
Meanwhile, the prosecution announced that top MBS aide Saud al-Qahtani had been banned from travelling and was also under investigation.
Saudi Arabia's public prosecutor Saud al-Mujeb (Reuters)
The prosecutor's statement appeared to exonerate senior Saudi leaders, including Assiri, from the Khashoggi murder. It did not name the five individuals who were sentenced to death.
Inconsistencies with Turkish investigation
According to a Turkish prosecutor, Khashoggi was strangled and dismembered soon after stepping through the mission's doors.
After repeated denials, Saudi Arabia finally admitted Khashoggi had been murdered at the compound but blamed it on a "rogue" operation.
Investigators concluded that Khashoggi was killed after “a fight” that prompted the team to inject him with a sedative. An overdose, however, led to his death, the statement said, adding that the body was then dismembered and removed by five people from the consulate.
The Saudi claim contradicts Turkish evidence gleaned from microphones placed inside the consul generals room, which revealed that that Khashoggi was set upon and killed within seven minutes of his arrival. Last week, a source in the Turkish prosecutor's office told Al Jazeera that Khashoggi was “dissolved completely” by chemicals after he was murdered.
Turkish investigators have reportedly found traces of hydrofluoric acid and other chemicals within the samples submitted by the Saudi authorities, who have so far denied Turkish investigators access to the sewage system attached to the house of the Saudi consul Mohammad al-Otaibi.
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The Saudi prosecution added on Thursday that the defendants presented “a false report” to the deputy intelligence chief, and that one person handed over the dismembered body to a local accomplice.
Shaalan also went on to say that Saudi investigators had requested that Turkey submit all original recordings and evidence related to the case, but that it has yet to fulfil that request.
On Tuesday, he described the recording as “appalling”, and said that a Saudi intelligence officer was shocked when he listened to the audio. The officer said that whoever was responsible for the killing “must have taken heroin”, according to Erdogan.
On Wednesday, Turkey had called for an international investigation into the murder.
"At the current stage we believe an international investigation is a must," Cavusoglu said, addressing his country's parliament.
Sources inside the kingom have told MEE that MBS had assembled a task force – composed of officials from the royal court, the foreign and defence ministries, and the intelligence service – to brief the the crown prince every six hours on how to divert international attention from Khashoggi's killing.
A war in Gaza was among a range of measures and scenarios proposed by an emergency task force set up to counter increasingly damaging leaks about Khashoggi's murder coming from Turkish authorities, according to sources with knowledge of the group's activities.