A Saudi court sentenced five men to death and three others to prison terms in the killing and dismemberment of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi on Monday, The New York Times reports.
The court found that the men -- Saudi agents on the ground in Turkey -- acted on their own without premeditation to kill Khashoggi when he visited the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, and that the killing was not ordered by superiors. The ruling comes even after US intelligence agencies determined that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman likely ordered the killing of the dissident writer.
“Monday’s verdicts also raise the prospect that Saudi Arabia could behead the men who carried out the killing while shielding those who ordered it,” The Times report added. “Turkey has accused Saudi Arabia of not cooperating in the investigation, a failure that a United Nations official said could amount to obstruction of justice.”
Khashoggi, who was a Virginia resident, traveled to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to obtain paperwork for his upcoming wedding. After entering the consulate, he was kidnapped, murdered, and dismembered. His remains have not been found.
Trial run in secret:
The trial was held in secrecy and the names of those sentenced have not been released by the kingdom.
“Saudi Arabia’s absolution of its senior leadership of any culpability in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi raises serious concerns over the fairness of the criminal proceedings,” Human Rights Watch’s Adam Coogle told The Times. “Saudi Arabia’s handling of the murder, from complete denial to hanging the murder on lower-level operatives in a trial that lacked transparency, demonstrates the need for an independent criminal inquiry.”
Saudi Arabia denies royal involvement:
Saudi prosecutors claimed that there was no evidence that the murder was “premeditated” or ordered by the agents’ superiors.
“But investigations by the Turkish authorities and a United Nations expert found vast evidence of premeditation, such as the arrival of 15 Saudi agents in Istanbul in the hours before Mr. Khashoggi’s killing,” The Times reported. “They included a ‘body double’ who sought to leave a false trail of surveillance footage indicating that Mr. Khashoggi was still alive, and a forensic doctor who the Turks say arrived with a bone saw that was used to dismember Mr. Khashoggi’s body.”
Although there has not been public evidence tying bin Salman to the killing, the CIA determined that he likely ordered the operation.