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Canada imposes sanctions on 17 Saudis suspected of Khashoggi murder

Ottawa says 17 Saudi citizens under sanctions are 'responsible for or complicit in the extrajudicial killing' of Saudi journalist
Khashoggi was murdered inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on 2 October (AFP)

Canada has imposed sanctions on 17 citizens of Saudi Arabia it says are tied to the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.

The Canadian government said on Thursday that the sanctioned individuals are "responsible for or complicit in the extrajudicial killing" of the Saudi journalist, who was murdered inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on 2 October.

"The murder of Jamal Khashoggi is abhorrent and represents an unconscionable attack on the freedom of expression of all individuals. Canada continues to call for a credible and independent investigation," Chrystia Freeland, Canada's minister of foreign affairs, said in a statement.

The murder of Jamal Khashoggi is abhorrent and represents an unconscionable attack on the freedom of expression of all individuals

- Chrystia Freeland, Canadian minister of foreign affairs

"Those responsible for Jamal Khashoggi’s murder must be held to account and must face justice," she said.

The government didn't name the 17 individuals subjected to Thursday's sanctions, but said the measure freezes assets they may have in Canada and bars them from entering the country.

Canada-Saudi relations have been rocky in recent months, after the Canadian government called for the immediate release of jailed Saudi human rights defenders in August.

Riyadh responded forcefully to the criticism from Ottawa, accusing Canada of "blatant interference" in the country's internal affairs and demanding a public apology.

The Saudi government then expelled the Canadian ambassador and said it would suspend future trade with Canada.

Global outrage over Khashoggi murder

The Canadian sanctions come amid ongoing global outrage over the murder of Khashoggi, a Saudi government critic and columnist for Middle East Eye and the Washington Post.

However, despite the sanctions and statements from Canadian leaders condemning Khashoggi's killing, a multi-billion-dollar weapons deal to ship Canadian-made, light-armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia remains in place.

Human rights groups have called on Ottawa to rescind the agreement in light of the murder.

"The situation prompted by Khashoggi’s assassination ... is perhaps the greatest test in years of Canada’s commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights," Cesar Jaramillo, head of anti-war group Project Ploughshares, told MEE last month.

"If arms shipments continue," Jaramillo said, "the Saudi regime will have every reason to feel emboldened to continue its repressive behaviour, knowing that Western arms will flow despite the obligatory expressions of concern by those providing them."

Earlier this month, the United States also imposed sanctions on 17 Saudi citizens it says were involved in the Khashoggi case.

Who are 17 Saudis under US sanctions for Jamal Khashoggi's killing?
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That included several top advisers to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, such as Saoud al-Qahtani, the crown prince's top confidant, and his aide, Maher Abdulaziz Mutrib.

While members of the crown prince's inner circle have been implicated in Khashoggi's murder, Mohammed bin Salman, known as MBS, has been largely shielded from responsibility - and Saudi officials have repeatedly said he had no knowledge of the crime.

However the CIA concluded this month that the crown prince had ordered Khashoggi's murder.

This did not stop US President Donald Trump vowing last week to stand by Mohammed bin Salman and his father, King Salman, despite the journalist's killing.

"It could very well be that the crown prince had knowledge of this tragic event – maybe he did and maybe he didn’t!" Trump said in a written statement last Tuesday.

"That being said, we may never know all of the facts surrounding the murder of Mr Jamal Khashoggi. In any case, our relationship is with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia," he said.

Trump's steadfast support for Riyadh has pit his administration against US politicians and the CIA.

The US president and his allies in Washington have sought to cast doubts on the US intelligence agency's findings, with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo saying on Wednesday that there is "no direct reporting connecting the crown prince to the order to murder" Khashoggi.

The White House also blocked CIA Director Gina Haspel from speaking to US senators about the Khashoggi investigation this week, a move that raised anger among lawmakers.