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Saudi Arabia carried out 'extrajudicial execution' on Khashoggi: UN expert

Agnes Callamard, UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, says perpetrators 'are high enough to represent the state'
Jamal Khashoggi, Saudi insider-turned-critic and Washington Post columnist, was last seen on 2 October (AFP)

An independent United Nations investigator says Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was the victim of an "extrajudicial execution" carried out by the Saudi state.

Agnes Callamard, the special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, told reporters at UN headquarters in New York on Thursday that the people who committed and orchestrated the killing "are high enough to represent the state".

Saudi Arabia has detained 18 people and dismissed five senior government officials as part of an investigation into Khashoggi's murder.

Some were members of a 15-man hit team, many of them Saudi intelligence operatives, who flew into Istanbul hours before Khashoggi's death, Turkish security sources have said.

Callamard said she didn't need to know who was linked to the crime in order to conclude it was an "extrajudicial execution".

Still, she said it remains unclear how high up the order to kill Khashoggi went.

Callamard also reiterated an earlier call for an independent investigation to "validate" the findings of investigations being carried out by Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

Saudi prosecutor says Khashoggi murder was premeditated
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Khashoggi, a Saudi insider-turned-critic who worked as a Washington Post columnist, was last seen on 2 October when he entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to retrieve paperwork for his planned marriage.

After more than two weeks of denials and shifting stories about what happened, Saudi officials said that Khashoggi was killed inside the consulate after a fight broke out.

On Thursday, the Saudi version of events changed again, when the Saudi prosecutor said the journalist's murder was premeditated.

King Salman speaks with Merkel, Putin

How world leaders treat Riyadh going forward may hinge on the extent to which they believe the Saudi version of events and how much responsibility rests with the country's powerful crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman.

While Saudi officials have said the crown prince, also known as MBS, had no knowledge of the plan to kill Khashoggi, this has left many unconvinced. Critics of Saudi Arabia say they believe the Gulf kingdom is seeking to shield MBS from any responsibility for what happened.

On Thursday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel condemned the killing in the strongest terms possible during a phone call with Saudi King Salman and vowed to take appropriate measures.

"The chancellor urged Saudi Arabia to ensure a rapid, transparent and credible investigation. She stressed that all those responsible must be held accountable," a statement from her office read.

King Salman also spoke to Vladimir Putin on Thursday, telling the Russian president that the Saudi government was determined to hold the guilty parties accountable and to make sure "they receive their punishment".

Salman, who has delegated the day-to-day running of Saudi Arabia to the crown prince, on Saturday ordered a restructuring of the general intelligence agency.

Saudi state news agency SPA said on Thursday that MBS had presided over the first meeting of a committee to carry out that restructuring.

In his first public comments on the matter, bin Salman promised on Wednesday that the killers would be brought to justice.

Still, even US President Donald Trump has cast doubt on MBS's claim he had nothing to do with Khashoggi's murder.

Questioned in an interview with the Wall Street Journal about MBS's possible involvement in the killing, Trump said: "Well, the prince is running things over there more so at this stage. He's running things and so if anybody were going to be, it would be him."

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