DUBAI (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia is seeking the death penalty for five of 21 people suspected of links to the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, but a U.N. rapporteur said on Wednesday that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman should also be investigated.
Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist and critic of Saudi policies, was killed in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last year after entering to obtain documents for his marriage.
The U.N. special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, in a report issued on Wednesday, named 11 individuals on trial and those facing death sentences, based on information from various governments’ sources. The Saudi public prosecutor has not identified them.
Following are profiles of some of those already held or fired in Saudi Arabia over the Khashoggi case, based on media reports and photos, plus information from officials and sources.
Reuters has not been able to contact the individuals.
MAHER ABDULAZIZ MUTREB
The general was an aide to Prince Mohammed’s former right-hand man Saud al-Qahtani for information security and the lead negotiator inside the consulate, according to a senior Saudi official. The U.N. report said Mutreb was involved in planning the operation days before it happened and was recorded referring to Khashoggi as “the sacrificial lamb”. [L8N23Q49K]
Mutreb is a senior intelligence officer and part of the security team for the prince, known as MbS. He appeared in photographs with the prince on official visits last year to the United States and Europe.
According to a Saudi official, Mutreb was selected for the Istanbul operation because he already knew Khashoggi from time working together at the Saudi embassy in London and could convince him to return to Saudi Arabia.
SALAH MOHAMMED TUBAIGY
Tubaigy is a forensic expert at the Saudi interior ministry’s criminal evidence department, according to a biography by the Saudi Commission for Health Specialties.
In the Istanbul operation, he was supposed to remove evidence such as fingerprints or proof of the use of force, according to the Saudi official. Tubaigy does not appear to have been a core team member but to have been specifically recruited to dispose of the body, the U.N. report said.
Also facing death sentences are FAHAD SHABIB AL-BALAWI and WALEED ABDULLAH AL-SHEHRI, both members of the Saudi Royal Guard, and TURKI MUSERREF AL-SHEHRI, an intelligence officer. The three were among 10 Saudi officials listed in the U.N. report as being at the consulate at the time of the murder.
AHMED MOHAMMED AL-ASIRI
The former deputy head of general intelligence was among those sacked by King Salman. The prosecutor said he ordered the operation to repatriate – but not kill – Khashoggi.
Asiri joined the military in 2002, according to Saudi media reports, and was spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition which intervened in Yemen’s civil war in 2015. He was named deputy chief of foreign intelligence by royal decree in April 2017.
MUSTAFA MOHAMMED AL-MADANI
Madani led the intelligence efforts for the 15-man team in Istanbul, the Saudi official said.
According to that official, Madani donned Khashoggi’s clothes, eyeglasses and Apple watch and left through the back door of the consulate in an attempt to make it look like the journalist had walked out of the building.
The U.N. report said his presence as a look-alike who wore a false beard suggests the murder was pre-planned. It identifies Madani as a brigadier general employed at the royal palace.
Also on trial are MOHAMMED SAAD AL-ZAHRANI and SAIF SAAD AL-QAHTANI, whom the U.N. report said were at the consulate when the killing occurred, and MANSOUR OTHMAN ABAHUSSAIN, who was at the consul general’s residence, as well as MUFLIH SHAYA AL-MUSLIH, a member of the consular staff.
NOT ON TRIAL
Qahtani, seen as the right-hand man to Prince Mohammed, was removed as a royal court adviser and is the highest-profile figure implicated in the incident.
He joined the royal court under the late King Abdullah. He rose to prominence as a confidant in Prince Mohammed’s secretive inner circle. He regularly spoke on behalf of MbS and has given direct orders to senior officials including in the security apparatus, sources with ties to the royal court said.
Qahtani had tried to lure Khashoggi back to Saudi Arabia after he moved to Washington a year ago fearing reprisals for his views, according to people close to the journalist and the government.
Qahtani used Twitter to attack criticism of the kingdom in general and MbS in particular. He also ran a WhatsApp group with local newspaper editors, dictating the court line.
In an August 2017 Twitter thread asking followers to flag accounts for a black list for monitoring, Qahtani wrote: “I am an employee and a faithful executor of the orders of my lord the king and my lord the faithful crown prince.”
The Saudi official said Qahtani authorized Mutreb to conduct a negotiation for Khashoggi’s return to the kingdom. The Saudi public prosecutor said a travel ban has been imposed on Qahtani while the investigation continues, but Gulf-based sources have told Reuters he is at liberty and still operates discreetly.
Mohammad al-Otaibi is the Istanbul Consul General. He gave Reuters a tour of the consulate four days after the murder, opening cupboards in an effort to show Khashoggi was not there.
The rapporteur’s report published recorded conversations he had with other Saudi officials days before Khashoggi’s murder in which he discussed “a top secret mission”. Otaibi left Istanbul and has not been heard from since.