Saudi A-G seeks death for five as Khashoggi trial opens

People protest against the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi outside the Saudi Arabian Embassy in London, on Oct 26, 2018. PHOTO: REUTERS

RIYADH • Saudi Arabia's attorney-general has sought the death penalty for five of 11 defendants charged with the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, as their high-profile trial opens in Riyadh.

All 11 accused were present with their lawyers at the opening hearing in the capital yesterday, according to a statement by the attorney-general carried by the official Saudi Press Agency.

The attorney-general said Saudi Arabia had twice submitted formal requests for evidence from Turkey - where Mr Khashoggi was murdered inside the kingdom's Istanbul consulate - but had received no response.

The names of the 11 defendants have not been officially released.

Mr Khashoggi, a contributor to the Washington Post, was murdered on Oct 2 last year in what Riyadh called a "rogue" operation.

The 59-year-old Saudi insider-turned-critic was strangled and his body cut into pieces by a team of 15 Saudis sent to Istanbul for the killing, according to Turkish officials. There have been reports that his remains, which have not been found, were dissolved in acid.

The consulate and the consul-general's residence in Istanbul were searched by the Turkish authorities in October along with several other locations.

Ankara has sought the extradition of the suspects in Saudi custody to stand trial in Turkey but its requests have been repeatedly rebuffed by Riyadh.

The United States Central Intelligence Agency has reportedly concluded that the kingdom's de facto leader, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, very likely ordered Mr Khashoggi's murder.

But in November, the Saudi attorney-general ruled out any involvement by the crown prince, whose reformist credentials abroad have been seriously tarnished by the killing.

There was no advance notice of yesterday's court session and no footage of the proceedings was immediately shared on state-run television or media.

Saudi trials are largely closed to the media, and Ms Cinzia Bianco, a Middle East and Gulf analyst for Gulf State Analytics in London, said she did not expect a public trial in this case either.

The case is highly politicised "and much more complex than it appears just based on the evidence being shared with the public", Ms Bianco said.


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 04, 2019, with the headline Saudi A-G seeks death for five as Khashoggi trial opens. Subscribe