Turkey seeks arrest of Saudi prince’s aides over Khashoggi murder
Saud al-Qahtani (L) and Crown Prince Mohammed
A Turkish prosecutor has demanded that arrest warrants be issued against two Saudi nationals close to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman over the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
The Istanbul Chief Prosecutor’s Office filed an application Dec. 5 to obtain the warrants for Ahmad al-Assiri and Saud al-Qahtani, described in court documents as being “among the planners” of the murder of the Washington Post contributor.
The court application said there is “strong suspicion” the two aides were involved in planning the killing.
Turkey has been seeking to extradite 18 suspects, including 15 members of the alleged assassination squad.
Saudi Arabia had detained 21 people and says it is seeking the death penalty for five. Assiri and Qahtani were reportedly suspended from their duties but they do not face criminal charges.
“The prosecution’s move to issue arrest warrants for Asiri and Qahtani reflects the view that the Saudi authorities won’t take formal action against those individuals,” Reuters quoted one Turkish official as saying on Dec. 5.
“The international community seems to doubt Saudi Arabia’s commitment to prosecute this heinous crime. By extraditing all suspects to Turkey, where Jamal Khashoggi was killed and dismembered, the Saudi authorities could address those concerns,” the Turkish official added.
US senators blame Saudi prince after CIA briefing
Breaking with President Donald Trump, U.S. senators leaving a briefing with CIA Director Gina Haspel on Dec. 4 said they are even more convinced that Prince Mohammed was involved in Khashoggi’s death.
The Associated Press quoted Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker as saying that he believes if the crown prince were put on trial, a jury would find him guilty in “about 30 minutes.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham, who demanded the briefing with Haspel, said there is “zero chance” the crown prince wasn’t involved in Khashoggi’s death.
“There’s not a smoking gun. There’s a smoking saw,” Graham said, referring to reports from the Turkish government that said Saudi agents used a bone saw to dismember Khashoggi after he was killed in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2.
Graham said “you have to be willfully blind” not to conclude that this was orchestrated and organized by people under the crown prince’s command.
Senate expected to debate Yemen resolution
Trump has equivocated over who is to blame for the killing, frustrating senators who are now looking for ways to punish the longtime Middle East ally. The Senate overwhelmingly voted last week to move forward on a resolution curtailing U.S. backing for the Saudi-led war in Yemen.
It’s unclear whether or how that resolution will move forward. The vote last week allowed the Senate to debate the measure, which could happen as soon as next week, but senators are still in negotiations on whether to amend it and what it should say.
Haspel met with a small group of senators, including leadership and the chairmen and top Democrats on the key national security committees, after senators in both parties complained that she didn’t attend an all-Senate briefing with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis last week.
Pompeo, Mattis see ‘no smoking gun’
Pompeo and Mattis tried to dissuade senators from punishing Saudi Arabia with the resolution, saying U.S. involvement in the Yemen conflict is central to the Trump administration’s broader goal of containing Iranian influence in the Middle East. Human rights groups say the war is wreaking havoc on the country and subjecting civilians to indiscriminate bombing.
The two men also echoed Trump’s reluctance to blame the crown prince. Pompeo said there was “no direct reporting” connecting the crown prince to the murder, and Mattis said there was “no smoking gun” making the connection.
After that briefing, Graham threatened to withhold his vote on key legislation until he heard from Haspel. “I’m not going to blow past this,” he said. That afternoon, senators frustrated with the briefing and the lack of response to Khashoggi’s killing overwhelmingly voted to move forward with consideration of the Yemen resolution, 63-37.
Haspel briefing found as ‘more informative’
Illinois Sen. Richard Durbin said the briefing with Haspel “clearly went in to an evaluation of the intelligence” and was much more informative than the session with Mattis and Pompeo.
“I went in believing the crown prince was directly responsible or at least complicit in this and my feelings were strengthened by the information we were given,” Durbin said.
Durbin joined Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer in calling for a full-Senate briefing from Haspel.
“Every senator should hear what I heard this afternoon,” Durbin said.
Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, a critic of Saudi Arabia, said that excluding some lawmakers is “the very definition of the deep state” and that he suspected that the Trump administration is attempting to get some lawmakers to switch their votes on the resolution by giving them information.