The CIA has reportedly concluded that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the assassination of journalist and Saudi government critic Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul last month. The Washington Post reports, according to people familiar with the matter, that CIA officials have a high degree of confidence in the conclusion.
The United States will hold the killers of dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi to account, Vice President Mike Pence said on Saturday.
This comes after Saudi Arabia's public prosecutor said on Thursday that the country is seeking the death penalty for five out of 11 suspects charged in the murder of Khashoggi, in a case that has strained the kingdom's ties with key Western allies.
He said the Washington Post columnist was murdered after "negotiations" for his return to the kingdom failed and that the person who ordered the killing was the head of the negotiating team that was sent to repatriate Khashoggi.
The whereabouts of Khashoggi's body remain unknown, he said.
Riyadh had offered numerous contradictory explanations for Khashoggi's disappearance before saying he was killed in a rogue operation, in a case that has sparked a global outcry, opened the kingdom to possible sanctions and tarnished the image of the crown prince.
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According to the Washington Post report, Khalid bin Salman, the younger brother of Prince Mohammed and Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the U.S., had made a phone call to Khashoggi telling him to go pick up documents at the consulate in Istanbul. It is unclear if Khalid knew that Khashoggi would be killed.
Khalid responded to the report, denying that he had any contact with Khashoggi. Khalid claimed that the last contact he had with Khashoggi was on October 26, 2017, adding that he never discussed anything related to going to Turkey.
Turkish officials have accused Prince Mohammed of ordering the murder while President Erdogan said the killing was ordered at the "highest levels" of the Saudi government. U.S. President Donald Trump has suggested ultimate responsibility lies with the prince as de facto ruler.
"The Public Prosecutor has requested the death penalty for 5 individuals who are charged with ordering and committing the crime and for the appropriate sentences for the other indicted individuals," Shaalan said, without naming the five.
He said 11 out of 21 suspects have been indicted and that their cases will be referred to court, while the investigation with the remaining suspects will continue in order to determine their role in the crime.
A travel ban has been imposed on a top aide to the crown prince, Saud al-Qahtani, while investigations continue over his role, Shaalan said, adding Qahtani had met the team ordered to repatriate Kashoggi ahead of their journey to Istanbul to brief them on the journalist's activities. Qahtani has already been fired from the royal court.
Turkey says it has a recording related to the killing which it has shared with Western allies. President Tayyip Erdogan said the recordings are "appalling" and shocked a Saudi intelligence officer who listened to them, Turkish media reported on Tuesday.
DPA contributed to this report