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Khashoggi murder 'planned and perpetrated' by Saudi officials, UN expert finds

UN investigators say Saudi officials responsible for the 'brutal and premeditated' killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi
UN investigator said her team heard 'chilling' audio of the journalist's killing (AFP)

A United Nations-led investigation into the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi has placed blame on Saudi officials for the "brutal and premeditated" murder.

The UN's expert on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Agnes Callamard, said on Thursday that Khashoggi "was the victim of a brutal and premeditated killing, planned and perpetrated by officials of the State of Saudi Arabia".

Callamard did not name any specific Saudi state officials in her statement.

She said her team was given access to "chilling and gruesome audio material obtained and retained by the Turkish Intelligence agency" and her assessment was based on evidence collected so far in Turkey, where she is leading an independent probe into the murder.

A prominent Saudi journalist and Washington Post columnist, Khashoggi was murdered shortly after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October.

However, Callamard said Turkish attempts to promptly investigate Khashoggi's killing were thwarted by Saudi Arabia, which provided "woefully inadequate time and access" to the crime scene.

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Callamard also called for anyone with information on the murder to come forward before the inquiry's final report is delivered to the UN in June.

"The murder of Jamal Khashoggi and the sheer brutality of it has brought irreversible tragedy to his loved ones. It is also raising a number of international implications which demand the urgent attention of the international community including the United Nations," she said.

Khashoggi's murder has put the spotlight on Saudi Arabia's powerful crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, who has been accused of ordering the journalist's assassination.

The CIA concluded last autumn that the crown prince, also known as MBS, was behind the murder.

Saudi officials have denied MBS had any knowledge of the crime, however, and a trial opened earlier this month in the Gulf kingdom for 11 people suspected of being involved.

Mr Khashoggi was the victim of a brutal and premeditated killing, planned and perpetrated by officials of the State of Saudi Arabia

- Agnes Callamard, UN expert

The hit squad that murdered Khashoggi included security officials close to bin Salman, however, and media reports have implicated two of his closest allies.

Human rights groups and other observers also say the Saudi investigation into the killing has not met international standards and they have called for a thorough probe into the slaying.

Saudi officials have said that Bin Salman's close adviser, Saud al-Qahtani, was dismissed from his role after Riyadh acknowledged the murder.

Initially, Saudi Arabia claimed Khashoggi left the country's consulate alive. 

The Saudi government has also disputed the CIA assessment's that MBS ordered the killing.

Citing a confidential report prepared for the Saudi public prosecutor by private US security firm Kroll, the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) previously reported that none of the WhatsApp messages exchanged between MBS and Qahtani on the day Khashoggi was killed concerned the journalist or his murder. 

Two US officials said this week that the CIA stood by its "medium-to-high confidence" assessment that MBS personally targeted Khashoggi, authorised the operation against him, and probably ordered his death.