The pardon effectively ends the prospect that any of the men who killed Jamal Khashoggi will be executed.
A son of the slain Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi said Friday that he and his siblings had forgiven the men who killed their father, effectively extinguishing the prospect that the killers will be executed for the crime.
Khashoggi, a prominent Saudi journalist who fled the kingdom during the rise of its powerful crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, and wrote columns critical of him in The Washington Post, was killed and dismembered in October 2018 by agents from Saudi Arabia in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.
In December, a Saudi court convicted eight men in connection with the crime, sentencing three to prison terms and five to death, which is usually carried out in the kingdom by beheading. The men, whose names the Saudis have never released, were identified recently in a Turkish indictment that included extensive notes from the Saudi trial.
The Saudi court classified the case in a way that left open the possibility for Khashoggi’s heirs to pardon the killers, sparing them the sword. In a statement posted on Twitter, the son, Salah Khashoggi, essentially completed that process, citing a verse from the Quran praising forgiveness and saying the family hoped to be rewarded by God for its good deed.
Salah Khashoggi lives in Saudi Arabia, raising the possibility that the pardon was coerced. He and his three siblings have received tens of thousands of dollars and millions in real estate from the kingdom’s rulers as compensation for their father’s killing.
Jamal Khashoggi’s other children, a son and two daughters, have recently remained quiet about their father’s case, but only one of them needs to pardon the killers for the executions to be avoided.
The outcome will have to be made official in court, but the developments were immediately condemned by rights experts and associates of Jamal Khashoggi, including his fiancée at the time of his death, Hatice Cengiz. They have accused the Saudis of shielding Khashoggi’s killers from accountability.
“The Saudi authorities are playing out what they hope will be the final act in their well-rehearsed parody of justice in front of an international community far too ready to be deceived,” Agnes Callamard, a U.N. expert on extrajudicial executions who investigated Khashoggi’s killing, said in a statement.
She dismissed the Saudi investigation, trial, verdict and pardon as predetermined steps leading to “the antithesis of justice” and called for an international investigation to determine who was involved “at the highest levels of the state.”
The CIA concluded that Crown Prince Mohammed, a son of the Saudi king and the kingdom’s de facto ruler, had most likely ordered the killing, and the Senate unanimously passed a symbolic resolution holding the crown prince “personally accountable” for Khashoggi’s death.
Saudi officials have insisted the prince had no previous knowledge of the plot against Khashoggi, and said his killing had not been premeditated.
The crime, and repeated Saudi attempts to cover it up and change the story of what happened, battered Crown Prince Mohammed’s international reputation. Khashoggi’s body has not been found.
Arab News, a Saudi newspaper, wrote Friday that the five men sentenced to death could face other punishments, but it did not give details.
Many Saudis and US officials assume the gifts given to Salah Khashoggi and his siblings were intended to persuade him to publicly forgive his father’s killers. The pardon, announced during the final days of the holy month of Ramadan, when many Muslims engage in charity and other good deeds, is unlikely to blunt criticism of the Saudis.
“Jamal Khashoggi has become an international symbol bigger than any of us, admired and loved,” Cengiz, Khashoggi’s fiancée, wrote on Twitter on Friday. “We will not pardon the killers nor those who ordered the killing.”
Saudi authorities have never publicly named the 11 men who stood trial for Khashoggi’s killing, nor the eight who were convicted, citing privacy regulations.
The trial was held in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, in strict secrecy: Trial sessions were not announced in advance, and diplomats from countries including the United States and Turkey who were allowed to observe did not share their impressions.
But excerpts from the notes of Turkish diplomats who observed the trial have recently become public, providing the first glimpses of how it unfolded.
The trial largely corresponded with the final Saudi narrative of the events that led to Khashoggi’s killing, aspects of which have been questioned by Turkish and U.S. officials familiar with the case.
According to testimony cited in the trial notes, once it was known that Khashoggi would come to the consulate October 2 to pick up a document he needed to marry Cengiz, a Saudi intelligence official sent 15 agents to Turkey with the goal of bringing him home. Most of the men testified that they were ordered to use force if necessary.
In Istanbul, five members of the team were given the task of confronting Khashoggi, the trial notes say. When their leader, an intelligence officer named Maher Mutrib, realized that Khashoggi would not return to Saudi Arabia voluntarily, he ordered the men to kill him, some of the men testified.
The account contradicts audio captured by Turkish intelligence inside the consulate in which the men discussed the size and weight of Khashoggi before he arrived.
When Khashoggi reached the building, Mutrib referred to him as “the sacrificial animal,” according to the audio, which was cited in a report by Callamard, the U.N. expert.
The trial notes say the men injected Khashoggi with a drug that killed him, dismembered his body with knives, and then placed his remains in three bags.
The notes do not mention the “bone saw” that Turkish officials have said the men used to dismember Khashoggi.
The five men directly involved in Khashoggi’s killing received the death sentence, according to the trial notes. They included Mutrib; Salah Tubaigy, a forensic doctor and autopsy specialist who administered the shot that killed Khashoggi; and three others.
Mansour Abu Hussain, who oversaw the 15-man team, was sentenced to 10 years. The trial notes said he had confessed to lying in a report to his superiors to hide Khashoggi’s killing.
Two others received seven-year sentences: Mustafa al-Madani, who was similar in size and stature to Khashoggi, allowing him to serve as a body double when he put on the dissident’s clothes after the killing and walked around Istanbul to deceive investigators; and Saif Saad al-Qahtani, who worked with al-Madani.
The trial notes also made clear that Saud al-Qahtani, a powerful aide to Crown Prince Mohammed at the time who U.S. officials believe oversaw the operation, was never questioned in connection with the crime.
Al-Qahtani was sanctioned by the State and Treasury departments. The latter called him “part of the planning and execution of the operation that led to the killing of Mr. Khashoggi.”
The notes from the Turkish diplomats who attended the Saudi trial became public last month when they appeared in a Turkish indictment of 20 suspects in Khashoggi’s killing.
Written by: Ben Hubbard
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