The entrance to Saudi Arabia's consulate in Istanbul, where journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed. Photo: AFP/ Yasin Akgul

Saudi Arabia’s public prosecution announced on Thursday it will seek the death penalty for five of eleven individuals charged for their role in the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.

“The Public Prosecutor has requested the death penalty for (5) individuals who are charged with ordering and committing the crime and for appropriate sentences for the other indicted individuals,” the state-run Saudi Press Agency reported, citing an official statement.

The prosecutor said the total number of suspects in custody has reached 21.

The US Department of Treasury, shortly after the Saudi announcement, sanctioned Saud al-Qahtani, Maher Mutreb, the former Saudi consul general in Istanbul and 14 other members of an operations team for their role in the murder of Khashoggi. The timing suggested the Trump White House had immediately adopted the Saudi prosecutor’s conclusions, namely the omission of the monarchy.

Drugged and dismembered

Khashoggi was drugged by the five accused and then dismembered, a spokesman for the public prosecutor’s office said in the first Saudi acknowledgment about how he was killed.

The journalist’s body parts were then handed over to an agent outside the consulate grounds, the spokesman said, according to AFP.

It is unclear whether Saud al-Qahtani and Ahmad al-Assiri, senior officials who were relieved of their posts in the wake of the Saudi admission of guilt, are among those indicted. The two men are closely linked to the powerful crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, who has sought to wash his hands of the affair.

The brazen killing of Khashoggi, a rare Saudi insider willing to speak to American policymakers and journalists freely, sparked outrage in Washington. The monarchy, which initially denied all state culpability, was forced to go into damage control mode to avert a crisis with the Trump White House.

Riyadh on Thursday also pledged to provide a sketch of a “local collaborator” sought by Turkish authorities. Since Khashoggi’s disappearance, Ankara has pressured the Saudis with a steady drip of leaks as to the level of evidence in its possession.

The Turks kept up the pressure yesterday, saying the Saudi explanation over Khashoggi’s murder was “insufficient”.

However, analysts believe that with its newfound leverage over the crown prince, Turkey will likely seek to avoid crossing the tipping point where the Saudi monarchy sidelines him as a liability.

The Saudi public prosecutor said it had meanwhile submitted “formal requests to brotherly authorities in Turkey” to provide any audio recordings related to the case, which have thus far been shared with the CIA and other Western governments.

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