Saudi court sentences 5 to death over Khashoggi murder

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (UPDATED) – Five people have been sentenced to death over the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, but two top figures investigated over the killing have been exonerated, Saudi Arabia's public prosecutor said Monday, December 23.

"The court issued death sentences on 5 men who directly took part in the killing," the prosecutor said in a statement.

Saudi prosecutors had said deputy intelligence chief Ahmed al-Assiri oversaw the Washington Post columnist's killing in the kingdom's Istanbul consulate in October 2018 and that he was advised by the royal court's media czar Saud al-Qahtani.

However, Qahtani was investigated but not indicted "due to insufficient evidence" and Assiri was investigated and charged but eventually acquitted on the same grounds, the statement said.

Of the 11 unnamed individuals indicted in the case, 5 were sentenced to death, 3 face jail terms totalling 24 years, and the others were acquitted.

The prosecutor said that the Riyadh court hearing the case held a total of 9 sessions attended by representatives of the international community as well as Khashoggi's relatives.

"We found that Khashoggi's murder was not premeditated," the statement said.

Ringleader?
Qahtani, who led fiery social media campaigns against critics of the kingdom and was seen as a conduit to the crown prince, has not appeared publicly since the murder and his whereabouts are a subject of fevered speculation.

Maher Mutreb, an intelligence operative who frequently travelled with the crown prince on foreign tours, forensic expert Salah al-Tubaigy and Fahad al-Balawi, a member of the Saudi royal guard, were among the 11 on trial, sources have told AFP.

It was unclear if they were among those who were sentenced to death.

The sources said that many of those accused defended themselves in court by saying they were carrying out orders by Assiri, describing him as the "ringleader" of the operation.

According to the prosecutor's statement, of the 11 unnamed individuals indicted in the case, five were sentenced to death, three face jail terms totalling 24 years, and the others were acquitted.

The Riyadh court hearing the case held a total of nine sessions attended by representatives of the international community as well as Khashoggi's family, it said.

The Khashoggi murder rattled the world at a time when Saudi Arabia and its de facto leader, Prince Mohammed, were pushing an aggressive public relations campaign to rebrand the ultraconservative kingdom as a modern state.

The United Nations and human rights groups have called for an independent investigation into the killing. – Rappler.com