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Top MBS adviser Qahtani absent from trials over Khashoggi murder: Report

Sources say Saud al-Qahtani, one of the chief suspects in the journalist's murder, is not standing trial for the killing
Qahtani was sacked as MBS's advisor and then sanctioned by the US Treasury for his suspected role in Khashoggi's killing (Twitter)

Saud al-Qahtani, a top aide to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, is not among the 11 suspects on trial for the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, according to sources familiar with the matter. 

Reuters reported on Sunday that seven sources had told the news agency that Qahtani is not on trial and had been absent from the four secretive court sessions convened since January. 

Qahtani was sacked as bin Salman's, also known as MBS, advisor and then sanctioned by the US Treasury for his suspected role in the killing of Khashoggi by a Saudi death squad at the kingdom's consulate in Istanbul on 2 October. 

His absence from the trial comes after a Saudi royal told the Wall Street Journal that "MBS had no intention whatsoever to let go of Qahtani and was furious when he was fired by his father". 

Khashoggi, a columnist for the Washington Post and Middle East Eye, was a vocal critic of the Saudi government.

The Washington Post also reported that MBS has maintained regular contact with Qahtani despite the international outcry against the royal adviser. 

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The Saudi public prosecutor indicted 11 unnamed suspects in November, including five who could face the death penalty on charges of "ordering and committing the crime".

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Riyadh launched the trials in a bid to quell international condemnation over Khashoggi's murder after the CIA concluded that MBS had sanctioned the journalist's assassination.

Claims that Saudi Arabia has continued to deny. 

Interpol has issued a red notice against Qahtani and 20 other suspects in Khashoggi's killing at the request of the Turkish government. 

Saudi intelligence officers told Reuters weeks after the journalist's murder that Qahtani had directed Khashoggi's killing and dismemberment via Skype. 

The Saudi public prosecutor said in November that Qahtani had coordinated with deputy intelligence chief Ahmed al-Asiri, who ordered the repatriation of Khashoggi. 

Asiri is on trial, the sources told Reuters.

'They are hoping these five names will be enough'

Three of Reuter's sources said that Maher Mutreb, the lead negotiator in the team sent to Istanbul, and Salah al-Tubaigy, a forensic expert specialised in autopsies, are also on trial and could face the death penalty.

Tubaigy, who is also under US sanctions, was the head of forensic evidence in the Saudi general security department.

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Turkish officials told MEE in November that Tubaigy was tasked with cutting up Khashoggi's body.

He carried out the dismemberment while listening to music, an audio recording of the crime that is in the possession of Turkish intelligence officials indicated.

"When I do this job, I listen to music. You should do [that] too," Tubaigy was recorded as saying, a Turkish source told MEE at the time.

Saudi officials are hoping that the five death penalty cases will alleviate US pressure to prosecute Qahtani, sources told the WSJ.

"The Saudi regime knows that the US wants to see Qahtani on trial, but they are hoping these five names will be enough," one Saudi official said.