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Khashoggi case: Saudi refuses to confirm Qahtani’s whereabouts

After seven weeks of investigation, the former top aide to Saudi Crown Prince is still missing, Washington Post reports.

Saudi authorities are refusing to confirm the whereabouts of Saud al-Qahtani, the former top aide to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), according to the Washington Post.

Qahtani was fired in October, just days after the gruesome murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi came to light.

In November, the Kingdom confirmed that he was under investigation and banned from leaving the country. Since then there has been no official statement in the case, the Washington Post reported.

Saudi prosecutors allege that Qahtani played a major role in Khashoggi’s killing inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2 last year. He was among 17 Saudis sanctioned by the US government over the murder.

Saudi officials say Prince Mohammed was not aware of the plot to kill Khashoggi, the Washington Post reported.

The US and western countries are watching the Saudi government’s treatment of Qahtani as a measure of its seriousness in bringing to justice Khashoggi’s killers, the paper reported.

A number of questions remain to be answered about Qahtani’s involvement, including his role in planning the killing or whether he was framed.

Khalil Jahshan, executive director of the Arab Centre of Washington, told Al Jazeera that Qahtani’s disappearance is a “natural progression of [Saudi Arabia’s] investigation” and is likely used as a strategy to keep MBS protected from accusations regarding Khashoggi’s murder.


“They have sheltered some of the key players accused of being involved [in the murder] whether by Turkey or by the international community,” Jahshan said.

“The intention of the Saudi campaign right now is to keep the crown prince clear of any accusations with regards to the murder of Khashoggi.”

‘They are above the law’

Abdulaziz Almoayyad, Saudi human rights activist told Al Jazeera from Ireland that his disappearance is simply “what is expected from Saudi ideology”.

Almoayyad said that non-violent Saudi dissidents who are asking for some reforms from the government are punished with capital punishment.

“They don’t even need to be a reformer. This is the way the government deals with different opinions, to deal with people who ask for peoples representation,” Almoayyad said, adding that the perpetrators of the murder won’t be brought to justice.


“[MBS] isn’t willing to punish [the murderers]; he isn’t willing to punish his own and that will lead him to lose his power.

“In Saudi Arabia, this is a small minority that controls the people … Saudi people are fighting for their rights and they are imprisoned for it.

“But this small circle [of MBS] cannot be harmed. They are super rich, super powerful and they really think they are above the law of Saudi Arabia, or international.”

Last November, the CIA concluded that MBS ordered the assassination of Khashoggi in Istanbul, a finding that contradicts Saudi government assertions that Prince Mohammed was not involved.

US officials expressed high confidence in the CIA assessment, according to the Washington Post.


Source who read transcript of tape tells CNN text suggests calls were made to give briefings on the murder’s progress.

Saudi Arabia has admitted Jamal Khashoggi was killed inside its consulate in the Turkish city of Istanbul.

Khashoggi – a Saudi writer, United States resident and Washington Post columnist – had entered the building on October 2 to obtain documentation certifying he had divorced his ex-wife so he could remarry.

After weeks of repeated denials that it had anything to do with his disappearance, the kingdom eventually acknowledged that its officials were behind the gruesome murder. The whereabouts of his body are still unknown.

Here are the latest related developments:

Sunday, December 9

Report: ‘I can’t breathe’ were Khashoggi’s last words

“I can’t breathe.” These were Khashoggi’s final words, according to a CNN report, which cited a source who has read the transcript of an audio tape of the final moments before the journalist’s murder.

The source told the US network the transcript made clear the killing was premeditated, and suggests several phone calls were made to give briefings on the progress.

CNN said Turkish officials believe those calls were made to top officials in Riyadh.

The transcript of the gruesome recording includes descriptions of Khashoggi struggling against his murderers, CNN said, and references sounds of the dissident journalist’s body “being dismembered by a saw”.

The original transcript was prepared by Turkish intelligence services, and CNN said its source read a translation version and was briefed on the probe into the journalist’s death.

Last month, the head of investigations at the Turkish Sabah newspaper told Al Jazeera that Khashoggi’s last words were “I’m suffocating … Take this bag off my head, I’m claustrophobic”, according to an audio recording from inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

Khashoggi fiancee: No normal person could imagine such ‘horrific’ crime

Hatice Cengiz, the fiancee of Khashoggi, has called for the perpetrators of the murder to be identified and put on trial.

In an exclusive interview with Al Jazeera that aired on Monday, Cengiz said she will keep fighting to ensure everyone responsible for his murder is brought to justice.

“I want to expose the details of this horrific crime, identify the perpetrators and put those who carried out the killing on a fair trial, including those who ordered the hit so they get the punishment they deserve,” she said.

“On behalf of Jamal’s relatives and loved ones, and I say this as one of them, we need to know the whereabouts of his body. This is a basic human right.”

Saturday, December 8

The Washington Post: Return of Saudi envoy to US is ‘stunningly arrogant’

The Washington Post has criticised the Saudi ambassador’s return to the United States and described it as “stunningly arrogant”, accusing him of lying openly about the murder of Khashoggi.

In an editorial, the newspaper said that in the days following Khashoggi’s disappearance inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Saudi Ambassador Khalid bin Salman launched “an epic campaign of lies” – as the newspaper put it – and told anyone who would listen to him, from senators to the Washington Post publisher, that reports that Khashoggi had been detained or killed inside the consulate was “absolutely false, and baseless”.

The ambassador left Washington D.C. a couple of weeks later as the truth about Khashoggi’s murder was revealed.

“Anyone who does not object to the murder of a journalist, the use of a diplomatic facility for such a crime or the wanton lying to cover it up will welcome him back to Washington,” the newspaper said. “He should be shunned by everyone else.”


Thursday, December 6

Deposed aide to Saudi crown prince accused of role in female activist torture

A top aide to Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, fired for his role in the killing of Khashoggi, personally oversaw the torture of at least one detained female activist earlier this year, two sources told Reuters news agency.

Saud al-Qahtani was a royal adviser to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman until October, when he was sacked and then sanctioned by the US Treasury over the Washington Post columnist’s murder.

Three sources, briefed on the activists’ treatment, say a group of men subjected this woman and at least three others to sexual harassment, electrocution, and flogging between May and August at an unofficial holding facility in Jeddah.

They described the group of about six men as distinct from the regular interrogators the women saw and said they belonged to the Saudi Federation for Cybersecurity, Programming and Drones, which Qahtani headed at the time, or to state security.

Qahtani was present when at least one of the women was tortured, two of the sources said.

A Saudi official said the allegations of mistreatment and torture of the female detainees were “false … and have no connection to the truth”.

“The detainees were detained based on accusations related to harming the security and stability of the kingdom,” the official said in response to questions from Reuters.

The women are among more than a dozen prominent activists arrested since May amid a broader crackdown targeting clerics and intellectuals. Activists say 11 women are still being held, including the four alleged to have been tortured.

HRW: Turkey should internationalise Khashoggi case to the UN

Turkey should submit a formal request to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to conduct an independent international probe into the killing of Khashoggi, Human Rights Watch said.

The investigation, the rights group said, would cut through attempts intended to protect Saudi officials and muddle the truth.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has come under increasing scrutiny with many publicly accusing him of complicity in the assassination.

“A UN investigation has the best chance of pushing Saudi Arabia to provide the needed facts and information about Mohammed bin Salman’s precise role in this murder – information that is available only from sources in Saudi Arabia,” Sarah Leah Whitson, the Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, said.

Read more here.

Istanbul’s chief prosecutor has filed warrants for the arrest of a top aide to Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler and the deputy head of foreign intelligence on suspicion of planning the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

The prosecutor’s office concluded that there is “strong suspicion” that Saud al-Qahtani and Ahmed Asiri, who were both removed from their positions following the murder, were among the planners of the murder, two Turkish officials said on Wednesday.

Jamal Khashoggi, a United States resident and columnist for the Washington Post, was killed shortly after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2.

“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,” one of the officials told Reuters news agency.

The official added that Saudi Arabia could address the international concern by extraditing all suspects in the case to Turkey.

According to AFP news agency, the application for the warrants was filed on Tuesday.

At the time of publication, Saudi Arabia had not publicly responded to the request.

Al-Qahtani worked as a media adviser to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman [Al Jazeera]

The Saudi prosecution has previously acknowledged that al-Qahtani and Asiri were part of the plot to kill Khashoggi.

The two men were both high-ranking officials with close ties to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Al-Qahtani is one of the highest-profile figures implicated in the killing. Believed to have been Prince Mohammed’s right-hand man.

The 40-year-old was removed as a royal court adviser following Khashoggi’s assassination. Prior to that, he served as a media adviser to Prince Mohammed.

Al-Qahtani is believed to have supervised a 15-man hit squad that flew from the Saudi capital, Riyadh, to Istanbul to carry out Khashoggi’s murder, although he did not travel to Turkey.

Nor did Asiri, who served as spokesperson for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen before being appointed as an adviser to Prince Mohammed, who then promoted him to his intelligence position in 2017.

Asiri is believed to be one of the planners of Khashoggi’s murder [Amr Nabil/AP Photo]

Asiri frequently was the subject of condemnation from rights groups over apparent disregard for civilian casualties in the war in Yemen.

Al Jazeera’s Mohamed Vall, reporting from Istanbul, said it is possible that more arrests will be ordered.

“The Turkish prosecution believes that these men are only a part of the planning and we understand that the list is not conclusive.

“We understand also that there was a previous request from the Turks to Saudi Arabia to extradite the 18 men they mentioned were involved in the crime but none of that has happened.

“No response came from Saudi Arabia and now there is this specific mention of these two men at the top, but it’s not a conclusive list and they said these men are among the planners, not all the planners,” he said.

US pressure needed

Wednesday’s announcement came hours after CIA director Gina Haspel briefed US senators on new evidence in the Khashoggi case.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said he felt there was “zero chance” the crown prince wasn’t involved in Khashoggi’s death.

While several countries have taken steps to put pressure on the kingdom, including in some cases suspending weapons exports, it is felt that Saudi Arabia is unlikely to comply with Turkish demands without encouragement from the US.

“We know that Mohammed bin Salman takes his cues from President Trump and that Trump so far has not commented on the statements that have been issued during the night from Congress members.

“I think the Saudis on their own will not comply with any Turkish demands unless there is enough pressure put on them from the American side,” Valls said.

Also on Wednesday, United Nations human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said that an international investigation was needed to determine who was responsible for Khashoggi’s murder.

“I do believe it is really needed in terms of ensuring what really happened and who are the [people] responsible for that awful killing,” she said at a news conference in Geneva.

Speaking in Brussels on Wednesday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu urged Saudi Arabia to be transparent, saying Ankara would not hesitate to launch an international probe if its investigation becomes deadlocked.

Khashoggi’s murder prompted international outcry and forced many countries to reassess their ties with the kingdom.

After weeks of repeated denials that it had any involvement with his disappearance, Riyadh eventually acknowledged that Saudi officials had planned and executed the killing.

The whereabouts of his remains are still unknown.

Newly-released private messages of journalist appear to show candid account of his take on MBS, CNN report says.

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