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France imposes travel ban on 18 Saudis suspected in Khashoggi murder

Decision from Paris follows similar moves from the US and other European countries
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and French President Emmanuel Macron. France has yet to confirm whether it will halt arms sales to Saudi Arabia (AFP)

France announced on Thursday it had imposed sanctions, including travel bans, on 18 Saudi citizens linked to the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and warned that more could follow depending on results of the current investigation.

"The murder of Mr Khashoggi is a crime of extreme gravity, which moreover goes against freedom of the press and the most fundamental rights," the French foreign ministry said in a statement.

"France asks that all light be shed on the manner in which such an act may have been committed. It expects from the Saudi authorities a transparent, detailed and exhaustive response."

Khashoggi was a prominent Saudi insider-turned-critic, who had been living in exile for a year when he was killed at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on 2 October, in an operation that Turkish authorities and the CIA have said was ordered by the highest level of Saudi leadership, likely Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Saudi Arabia has maintained that its crown prince had no prior knowledge of Khashoggi's killing or its botched cover-up.

The murder of Mr Khashoggi is a crime of extreme gravity, which moreover goes against freedom of the press and the most fundamental rights

- French foreign ministry

However, Turkish media reported on Thursday that the CIA had a recording of MBS - as the crown prince is often called - giving orders to “silence Jamal Khashoggi as soon as possible”.

After offering numerous contradictory explanations, Riyadh said last week Khashoggi had been killed and his body dismembered when negotiations to persuade him to return to Saudi Arabia failed - a new narrative that has failed to convince many abroad.

The Saudi public prosecution has charged 11 out of 18 citizens detained in relation to Khashoggi’s murder, recommending the death penalty for five of them - a practice that France reiterated its opposition to “in all circumstances”.

Continuing the trend

The French decision comes days after fellow European Union state Germany similarly announced it was imposing a travel ban on the 18 Saudis.

The United States also sanctioned 17 Saudis last week, including suspected members of the alleged hit squad thought to have carried out the assassination and senior advisers to Mohammed bin Salman, including confidante Saoud al-Qahtani.

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Nonetheless, US President Donald Trump has maintained his support for Saudi Arabia, arguing that its economic ties with the Gulf kingdom superseded the Khashoggi case.

Despite mounting pressure against Saudi authorities, France has yet to decide whether to halt its sales of weapons to the country.

"If decisions are to be taken in the future, they will be taken but based on facts that have been clarified and responsibilities that have been clearly established," a source in President Emmanuel Macron's Elysee office said in October. "We won't take any hasty decision on the future of our strategic relationship."

Saudi Arabia was the second-largest purchaser of French arms between 2008 and 2017, with deals totalling more than $12.5bn.

Earlier on Thursday, Denmark announced that it had suspended future approvals of weapons and military equipment exports to Saudi Arabia in response to Khashoggi’s killing and the kingdom's role in the Yemeni conflict.