WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - The US Treasury imposed sanctions on 17 Saudi officials on Thursday (Nov 15) for their role in the killing last month of Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, the first concrete response by the Trump administration to the journalist’s death.
Among those sanctioned were Saud al-Qahtani, who has been removed from his position as a top aide to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, as well as the Saudi Consul General Mohammed Alotaibi and members of a 15-person team Turkey has identified as being involved in Khashoggi’s death.
The announcement was unusual for Washington, which rarely imposes sanctions on Saudi nationals. The sanctions do not target the Riyadh government, an important US security and economic ally.
It also allows President Donald Trump’s administration to stop short of any action that might affect lucrative US arms deals with Saudi Arabia that he has vowed to preserve.
The sanctions limit access to the U.S. financial system and freeze the individuals’ assets. They will be implemented under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability 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.
He added that Washington was continuing to try to determine what happened and would hold accountable everyone found responsible for Khashoggi's death.
"The Government of Saudi Arabia must take appropriate steps to end any targeting of political dissidents or journalists," Mnuchin said.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called Thursday’s announcement “an important step” in the response to Khashoggi’s killing and said his department would continue to seek facts, consult the US Congress and work with other countries to hold accountable anyone who was involved.
Among others facing sanctions are 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.
The office of Saudi Arabia's public prosecutor said on Thursday it was seeking the death penalty for five out of 11 suspects charged in Khashoggi's murder, as the kingdom tries to contain its biggest political crisis in a generation.
Khashoggi, a royal insider-turned-critic of Saudi policy, was killed in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct 2 after a struggle, by lethal injection, deputy public prosecutor and spokesman Shalaan al-Shalaan told reporters.
Shalaan said that Prince Salman knew nothing of the operation, in which Khashoggi's body was dismembered, removed from the building and handed over to an unidentified "local cooperator".