Suspects in Saudi journalist case tied to top prince

One suspect has been photographed emerging from planes with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (above) on recent trips to Madrid and Paris. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (AFP) - A suspect identified by Turkey in the disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was a frequent companion of the kingdom's powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the New York Times reported on Tuesday (Oct 16).

Three other suspects are linked to Prince Mohammed's security detail, and a fifth is a high-level forensic doctor, the New York Times said.

The account could raise doubt about United States President Donald Trump's claim - after Saudi King Salman strongly denied to him any knowledge of what happened - that "rogue killers" might have been responsible for Mr Khashoggi's disappearance.

Mr Khashoggi, a Saudi national who contributed to The Washington Post and criticised policies of King Salman's son Crown Prince Mohammed, has not been seen since Oct 2, when he went to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to obtain official documents for his upcoming marriage.

Turkish government sources have said police believe the journalist was killed by a special team of 15 Saudi officials sent to Istanbul especially for the task.

Riyadh insists that he left the consulate safely.

The New York Times said it confirmed that at least nine of the 15 worked for the Saudi security services, military or other government ministries.

The newspaper said it gathered more information about the suspects through facial recognition software, a database of Saudi cellphone numbers, leaked Saudi government documents, witnesses and media.


One suspect, Mr Maher Abdulaziz Mutreb, was a diplomat assigned to the Saudi embassy in London in 2007, it said, citing a British diplomatic roster.

Mr Mutreb, perhaps a bodyguard, has been photographed emerging from planes with Prince Mohammed on recent trips to Madrid and Paris, the newspaper reported.

It added that Mr Mutreb was also photographed standing guard during Prince Mohammed's visits in the US to Houston, Boston and the United Nations.

The New York Times said three other suspects are Mr Abdulaziz Mohammed al-Hawsawi - a member of the security team that travels with Prince Mohammed - Mr Thaar Ghaleb al-Harbi, and Mr Muhammed Saad Alzahrani.

Mr Harbi and Mr Alzahrani have the same names as two people who have been identified as members of the Saudi Royal Guard, the New York Times said.

The fifth suspect is an autopsy expert, Mr Salah al-Tubaigy, who the New York Times said identified himself on his Twitter account as the head of the Saudi Scientific Council of Forensics.

He also held high positions in the Interior Ministry and the kingdom's top medical school, the report said.

On Monday, CNN cited two sources as saying the Saudis are preparing a report that Mr Khashoggi's death resulted from a botched interrogation, while the Wall Street Journal said the kingdom was weighing whether to say that rogue operatives killed Mr Khashoggi by mistake.

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