Who killed journalist and Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi? The Saudi public prosecutor indicates he’s got a pretty good idea.
In a statement today (Nov. 15) from the office of Saud Al Mujab, 11 suspects were cited, five of whom may now face the death penalty. Though the suspects were not named, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is not among them, the prosecutor said, asserting MBS had no advance knowledge of the killing.
The US, for its part, has 17 people in mind. The Treasury Department announced sanctions not against the Saudi Arabia government but 17 individual Saudi officials, whom treasury secretary Steve Mnuchin said had “targeted and brutally killed a journalist who resided and worked in the United States.” These sanctions will prevent the 17 from accessing US-based property interests they may hold or from doing business with Americans. The action appears to be minimal, to say the least.
Who are these 17 people? At least one is dead. Most will likely barely feel the impact of the US actions, with no obviously visible connection to US property or business interests. Many others have a close connection to the Saudi royal family, and particularly to MBS, who functions as the state’s absolute monarch.
The Saudi government, however, is focused on a narrative in which powerful officials got ideas above their station. Speaking at a press conference today, foreign minister Adel al-Jubeir said that “his royal highness the crown prince has nothing to do with this issue,” before adding that “sometimes people exceed their authority.”
Here’s the list of the 17 sanctioned by the US:
Until Saturday, al-Qahtani was the Saudi Arabia‘s royal court adviser, according to reports from Saudi state media. A Reuters investigation describes how he masterminded the crown prince’s social media presence—as well as the arrests of hundreds of Saudi elites. Al-Qahtani is reported to have been the brains behind Khashoggi’s death, issuing orders via Skype, though his close relationship with MBS makes allegations that the crown prince knew nothing of the killing hard to swallow. He has no obvious connection to the US.
Mutreb has a close relationship to MBS, accompanying him to France, Spain and the US this year alone. Documents from 2007 suggest he may have worked as a diplomat for a time in London. An anonymous source told the BBC Mutreb had trained as a spy on behalf of the kingdom, including receiving instructions on how to use technology to target other people’s devices and extract digital information. He is last known to have visited the US in 2016.
Scientist Tubaigy heads the Saudi Scientific Council of Forensics, with a background in pioneering rapid and mobile autopsies. As the New York Times reports, “Although there is no public record of a relationship between him and the royal court, such a senior figure in the Saudi medical establishment was unlikely to join a rogue expedition organized by an underling.” Tubaigy has not addressed the allegations connecting him to Khashoggi’s death.
According to reports from mid-October, Albostani is now dead. A former member of the Saudi Royal Air Force, he is said to have been killed in a car accident in Riyadh.
Alotaibi, former Saudi consul general based in Istanbul, is one of the kingdom’s top diplomats. He boarded a flight and left Turkey ahead of Turkish officials searching his house.
According to a now-deleted Facebook page found by the Washington Post, Alarifi was a member of the Saudi special forces, with photos showing him in uniform.
The Arabic caller-ID app MenoM3ay suggests that Alzahrani was a member of the Royal Guard, a special military unit that protects the royal family. As the Times reports, a guard wearing a name tag with that name can be seen in a 2017 video standing next to MBS.
Reports describe Abahussain as working in intelligence, having previously been a lieutenant colonel in the Saudi civil defense force. According to the Washington Post, he was formerly stationed in Amman, Jordan.
Alotaibi has visited the US at least three times at the same time as members of the royal family. He too appears to be a member of the Royal Guard.
Reports suggest that Alhawsawi was another member of the Royal Guard.
Alsehri seems to be a member of the Saudi Air Force, promoted to major by MBS last year.
In 2015, according to the Post, Alharbi accompanied the former and current crown princes to the US for a Camp David summit; two years later, he appears to have been promoted to lieutenant colonel in the army.
Also a member of the Royal Guard, Albalawi spent time in Washington, DC, ahead of a meeting between MBS and Donald Trump in early 2017.
Intelligence officer Badr Alotaibi is known to have traveled to Istanbul by private jet ahead of Khashoggi’s death.
Three days before the Crown Prince’s visit to New York earlier this year, Almadani spent time in the city, according to the Post. He is said to work within the kingdom’s primary intelligence agency.
Alqahtani is said to work in the royal palace, in the service of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
No information appears to be available on Alsehri.