The United States imposed economic sanctions on 17 Saudi officials for their role in the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi while Saudi Arabia’s public prosecutor sought the death penalty for five suspects in the murder, Reuters reports.
The US Treasury Department sanctions were the first concrete response by the Trump administration to Khashoggi’s death in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October.
Among those sanctioned were Saud al-Qahtani, who has been removed from his position as a top aide to the powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, as well as the Saudi Consul General Mohammad al-Otaibi and members of a 15-person team Turkey has identified as being involved in Khashoggi’s death.
The measure was unusual for Washington, which rarely imposes sanctions on Saudi nationals. The sanctions do not target the Riyadh government, an important US security andeconomic ally.
It also allows the administration to stop short of action that might affect lucrative US arms deals with Saudi Arabia that President Donald Trump has vowed to preserve.
The sanctions limit access to the US financial system and freeze people’s assets. They will be implemented under an act which targets perpetrators of serious human rights abuses and corruption.
“These individuals who targeted and brutally killed a journalist who resided and worked in the United States must face consequences for their actions,” Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said in a statement.
Among others cited in Thursday’s US Treasury announcement are General Maher Mutreb, an aide to Qahtani who has appeared in photographs with Prince Mohammed on official visits this year to the United States and Europe.
Absent from the sanctions list were four officials fired last month along with Qahtani: General Ahmed al-Asiri, the deputy head of foreign intelligence, and three other intelligence deputies – General Rashad bin Hamed al-Hamadi, General Abdullah bin Khaleef al-Shaya, and General Mohammed Saleh al-Ramih.
Weapons sales suspension sought
In Washington, Republican and Democratic senators introduced legislation seeking to strike back at Saudi Arabia over Khashoggi’s death and for its role in Yemen’s devastating civil war.
If it were to become law, the bill would suspend weapon sales to Saudi Arabia and prohibit US refueling of Saudi coalition aircraft for Riyadh’s campaign in Yemen against the Houthis, Shi’ite Muslim fighters that Yemen’s neighbors view as agents of Iran, the lawmakers said.
It also would impose sanctions on anyone blocking humanitarian access in Yemen and anyone supporting the Houthis in Yemen.
In a previous diplomatic rift between the United States and Saudi Arabia, the US government did not impose sanctions on Saudi officials over the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the US, in which 15 of the 19 hijackers were from the kingdom.
Khashoggi, a royal insider turned critic of Saudi policy, was killed in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2. He was a US resident and columnist for The Washington Post and his killing has provoked a political crisis in Saudi Arabia as well as friction with Western allies.
Saudi deputy public prosecutor and spokesman Shalaan al-Shalaan said the reporter died by lethal injection after a struggle.
Without naming them, Shalaan said the Saudi prosecutor had requested the death penalty for five people “charged with ordering and committing the crime, and for the appropriate sentences for the other indicted individuals”. He said 11 of 21 suspects have been indicted and will be referred to court.
Shalaan said Prince Salman, Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, knew nothing of the operation, in which Khashoggi’s body was dismembered, removed from the building and handed over to an unidentified “local cooperator”.
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