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Istanbul prosecutor indicts 20 Saudi suspects for Khashoggi killing

Ex-deputy intelligence chief Ahmed al-Asiri and former royal adviser Saud al-Qahtani accused of 'instigating premeditated murder' of Saudi journalist
Khashoggi, who criticised the policies of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was murdered at Saudi Arabia's consulate in Istanbul on 2 October (AFP)
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Ankara

Istanbul prosecutor's office said on Wednesday it had prepared an indictment against 20 suspects deemed to be involved in the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

Chief prosecutor Irfan Fidan said in a statement that the indictment accuses former deputy head of Saudi Arabia's general intelligence Ahmed al-Asiri and former royal court adviser Saud al-Qahtani as having "instigated premeditated murder with monstrous intent".

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The indictment was based on analysis of mobile phone records of the suspects, records of their entry and exit into Turkey and presence at the consulate, witness statements and analysis of Khashoggi's phone, laptop and iPad, Fidan said.

It accuses 18 others of carrying out the killing of Khashoggi, a US resident and columnist for Middle East Eye and the Washington Post.

Among those listed are Maher Abdulaziz M Mutreb, a former diplomat and intelligence officer who has repeatedly been pictured with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Salah Mohammed Tubaigy, the head of Forensic Evidence at the Saudi General Security Department, and Fahad al-Balawi, a member of the Saudi royal guard.

The 18 were charged with "deliberately and monstrously killing, causing torment" and face life in jail if convicted.

The prosecutor said the suspects were in agreement to bring Khashoggi to Saudi Arabia, and kill him if he refused to go.

The statement also confirmed that Khashoggi had been choked to death.

Fidan said investigations to find other suspects who had instigated the crime, joined in with the murder, or carried out activities to destroy evidence, were continuing.

The latter announcement appeared to be a sign that the Turkish government could still indict bin Salman who has been accused of ordering the killing.

A Turkish source who was briefed about the indictment told Middle East Eye that Turkish investigators believe Khashoggi had been killed because of his collaboration with other Saudi dissidents.

"He was a target due to his ties to other dissidents, and because he was cooperating with them," the source said. 

The source added that the investigators couldn't find any proof that there were "local" collaborators as Saudi authorities had suggested.

"They made up the local suspects angle to influence the direction and the course of the investigation. Now this is clear," the source said. 

'The sacrificial animal'

Khashoggi, who criticised the policies of bin Salman, was murdered at Saudi Arabia's consulate in Istanbul on 2 October. His remains have never been recovered.

Mutreb, Tubaigy and Balawi had been among 11 on trial in Riyadh over the murder, during which sources said many of those accused defended themselves by saying they were carrying out Asiri's orders, describing him as the operation's "ringleader".

In December, a Saudi court sentenced five people to death and three to jail over Khashoggi's murder.

But a Saudi prosecutor said there was no evidence connecting Qahtani to the killing and the court dismissed charges against Asiri.

A UN probe revealed that Saudi government agents had discussed murdering and dismembering Khashoggi before his arrival at the building, referring to the journalist as "the sacrificial animal".

The UN report called for targeted sanctions against bin Salman's "personal assets abroad" unless proof was produced to clear him of involvement in the crime, adding to the body of evidence implicating the crown prince in the murder.

Last year, the CIA concluded that bin Salman was behind the killing - a finding backed by every single US senator in late 2018.

The Turkish prosecutor said a trial in absentia would be opened against the 20 suspects but did not give a date.

The prosecutor had already issued arrest warrants for the suspects, who are not in Turkey.