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Turkey seeks arrest of two Saudi crown prince allies over Khashoggi murder

Istanbul's chief prosecutor files warrants for arrest of MBS adviser Saoud al-Qahtani and former deputy head of foreign intelligence Ahmed al-Asiri
Khashoggi was killed at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on 2 October (AFP)

Istanbul's chief prosecutor has filed warrants for the arrest of a top aide to Saudi Arabia's de facto ruler and the deputy head of foreign intelligence on suspicion of planning the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, two Turkish officials said on Wednesday.

The prosecutor's office has concluded there is "strong suspicion" that Saoud al-Qahtani and General Ahmed al-Asiri, who were removed from their positions in October, were among the planners of the 2 October killing at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, the officials said.

"The prosecution's move to issue arrest warrants for Asiri and Qahtani reflects the view that the Saudi authorities won't take formal action against those individuals," one of the Turkish officials told the Reuters news agency.

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The chief prosecutor's office in Istanbul filed an application on Tuesday to obtain the warrants for the men, described in court documents as being "among the planners" of the murder.

News of the warrants comes as UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet has called for an international investigation to determine who was responsible for Khashoggi's killing. 

"I do believe it is really needed in terms of ensuring what really happened and who are the (people) responsible for that awful killing," Bachelet said at a news conference in Geneva on Wednesday.

Bin Salman sent at least 11 messages to Qahtani, his closest adviser who oversaw the team that killed Jamal Khashoggi, in the hours before and after the journalist's death in October, according to a highly classified CIA assessment seen by a US newspaper on Friday.

The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) also reported that in August 2017, MBS had told associates that if his efforts to persuade Khashoggi to return to Saudi Arabia were unsuccessful, "we could possibly lure him outside Saudi Arabia and make arrangements," according to the assessment.

The document said the communication "seems to foreshadow the Saudi operation launched against Khashoggi".

The messages appear to reveal the first evidence of MBS's involvement in the operation on the actual day of the killing and of the crown prince sending messages as opposed to being told of events by an aide.

US senators more certain than ever

The Turkish prosecutor's move also comes a day after senior US senators said they were more certain than ever that Saudi Arabia's crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, was responsible for the killing of Khashoggi after receiving a CIA briefing on the matter.

Part of the arrest warrants issued for Qahtani and Asiri

Making some of their strongest accusations so far, both Republicans and Democrats said they still want to pass legislation to send a message to Saudi Arabia that the US condemns the death of Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist.

But President Donald Trump and some of his fellow Republicans have argued that Washington should not take action that would risk its relationship with Riyadh, which is viewed as an important counterweight to Iran in the Middle East.

"The international community seems to doubt Saudi Arabia’s commitment to prosecute this heinous crime. By extraditing all suspects to Turkey, where Jamal Khashoggi was killed and dismembered, the Saudi authorities could address those concerns," one of the Turkish officials told Reuters.

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Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has said the order for Khashoggi's killing came from the highest level of the Saudi government but probably not King Salman, putting the spotlight instead on Salman's heir and de facto ruler Prince Mohammed.

Saudi Arabia has said the prince had no prior knowledge of the murder.

After offering numerous contradictory explanations, Riyadh later said Khashoggi had been killed and his body dismembered when negotiations to persuade him to return to Saudi Arabia failed.