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Khashoggi: UK imposes sanctions on Saudi suspects

Officials linked to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman listed, including Saud al-Qahtani, Ahmed al-Asiri and Maher al-Mutreb
Britain's Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab as he makes a statement in the House of Commons (AFP)

The United Kingdom has announced sanctions on 19 Saudi Arabians suspected of murdering Jamal Khashoggi, including former top royal aide Saud al-Qahtani.

Qahtani is listed alongside Ahmed al-Asiri, former deputy head of military intelligence, and Maher al-Mutreb, a senior intelligence officer who served as bodyguard to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Foreign Minister Dominic Raab said the new sanctions regime, which also listed Russians and North Koreans, would initially target individuals or organisations accused of human rights violations around the world, along with those who profited financially from those abuses.

'We will not look the other way, you cannot set foot in this country and we will seize your blood-drenched, ill-gotten gains if you try'

- Dominic Raab, foreign secretary

He told MPs that the new sanctions would make it "crystal clear to those who abuse their power to inflict unimagineable suffering: we will not look the other way, you cannot set foot in this country and we will seize your blood-drenched, ill-gotten gains if you try".

Khashoggi, a former columnist for Middle East Eye and the Washington Post, was killed inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018. 

Five people have been sentenced to death for his killing in Saudi Arabia, though were pardoned by Khashoggi's family in May.

However, in Turkey 20 suspects including all those listed by the UK are currently on trial in absentia.

Those sanctioned by the UK are Meshal Saad al-Bostani, Fahad Shabib al-Balawi, Abdulaziz Mohammed al-Hawsawi, Thaar Ghaleb al-Harbi, Mohammed Saad al-Zahrani, Naif Hassan al-Arifi, Mansour Othman M. Abahussain, Waleed Abdullah al-Shehri, Turki Musharraf al-Shehri, Khalid Aedh al-Otaibi, Badir Lafi al-Otaibi, Muflis Shaya al-Musleh, Ahmed Abdullah al-Muzaini, Saad Muid al-Qarni, Mustafa Mohammed al-Madani, and Salah Mohammed Tubaigy, as well as Qahtani, Mutreb and Asiri.

Qahtani was a confidant and senior adviser to Mohammed bin Salman, and held much influence inside the crown prince's inner circle. 

Following Khashoggi's death, Middle East Eye revealed that Qahtani was part of the command structure of the Saudi death squad, which operated under the guidance and supervision of Mohammed bin Salman.

In the aftermath of the murder, Qahtani was banned from leaving Saudi Arabia and publicly fired from his role as a senior adviser to the crown prince. 

Several Saudis in the hit squad sent to intercept Khashoggi were members of the Tiger Squad, an elite unit linked to Asiri and Qahtani.

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The Tiger Squad has been used for assassinations in the past, Middle East Eye revealed, and was named after Asiri himself.

"Asiri is well-known among his colleagues as 'the Tiger of the South'. Since the coalition's war [on Yemen] the Saudi media also started calling Asiri 'the Beast', and he liked this nickname," a Saudi source with intimate knowledge of the unit told MEE.

Previously, the UK had imposed sanctions jointly with other EU countries. But with the country officially leaving the multi-national bloc this year, the British government is introducing a new sanctions framework.

Saudi Arabia has also been at the centre of a controversy over a bid by the kingdom's Public Investment Fund - which is chaired by the crown prince - to take over Newcastle United football club.

A United Nations investigation and the CIA both concluded that the operation that killed Khashoggi was almost certainly signed off by the crown prince. Riyadh denies Mohammed bin Salman had any knowledge of the plot or its botched cover-up.

Khashoggi's fiancee Hatice Cengiz, who waited in vain for him to exit the Istanbul consulate on 2 October 2018 as he sought documents necessary to marry, has appealed to Newcastle's fans and the Premier League to reject the Saudi bid.

Cengiz also gave testimony on Friday at the opening of the Turkish trial into Khashoggi's murder.

Campaigners and politicians have also attempted to block the Newcastle bid over concerns about Saudi human right abuses, as well as a ruling by the World Trade Organisation which found that “prominent Saudi nationals” promoted pirate network beoutQ, which illegally streamed content from Qatar's beIN Sports. Qahtani is implicated in the piracy.

Washington welcomed the UK government's broader sanction programme on Monday, saying that it "commends the UK’s continued global leadership on the promotion and protection of human rights".

"This sanctions regime marks the beginning of a new era for UK sanctions policy and cooperation between our two democracies," Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement. "The UK Global Human Rights sanctions regime will give the UK a powerful new economic tool to promote accountability for human rights abuse on a global scale.