The Trump administration on Thursday announced sanctions against 17 Saudis for their alleged roles in the killing of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.
Among those being sanctioned are Saud al-Qahtani, a former top aide to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman who the Treasury Department says was part of the “planning and execution” of the operation that led to Khashoggi’s death, as well as a top subordinate and the Saudi consul general in Istanbul.
“The Saudi officials we are sanctioning were involved in the abhorrent killing of Jamal Khashoggi,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement. “These individuals who targeted and brutally killed a journalist who resided and worked in the United States must face consequences for their actions.”
The sanctions mark the U.S.’s most sweeping punishment to date of Saudis over the journalist’s killing, which sparked a diplomatic crisis with one of President Trump‘s closest Middle East partners.
Any U.S. assets belonging to the individuals are frozen by the sanctions, and Americans are banned from doing business with them. The sanctions were imposed under the Global Magnitsky Act, which is aimed at human-rights violators.
The Treasury Department made its announcement hours after the Saudi government said it has indicted 11 people in Khashoggi’s death, which took place on Oct. 2. Five people face the death penalty in the case, but the Saudi public prosecutor did not reveal their identities.
The Saudis’ latest explanation, however, appeared to contradict its previous accounts and the Turkish government said it found it “unsatisfactory.”
The Saudis said the operation was designed to bring back Khashoggi alive to his home country, but that rogue agents caused a fatal overdose when they injected him with “a large amount” of an unspecified drug. The U.S. statement suggests that Khashoggi was targeted for death.
Neither country placed blame on Crown Prince Mohammed, a close ally of the Trump administration whom some foreign officials believe was responsible for the operation.
Riyadh’s statement was largely consistent with its previous claims that Khashoggi’s killing was the result of an extraction mission gone awry, but it admitted for the first time that the journalist’s body was dismembered and removed from the consulate in Istanbul.
Khashoggi was once close to the Saudi monarchy, but became critical of the crown prince and left the country last year over fear for his own safety. He wrote columns in The Washington Post and other publications that were critical of both Trump and Crown Prince Mohammed.
The Trump administration took its first steps to punish the Saudis in late October when it revoked U.S. visas for some officials deemed responsible for Khashoggi’s death. It also ended air refueling flights for Saudi forces fighting Iran-backed insurgents in Yemen.
But members of Congress and human-rights groups have urged Trump to go further, including imposing direct punishments on the crown prince.
Trump has rejected the possibility of ending U.S. arms deals with Saudi Arabia and expressed reservations about taking actions that could do lasting harm to his relationship with Riyadh, which he has placed at the center of his Middle East strategy.
BY JORDAN FABIAN – 11/15/18