Ezzedine Said with Raziye Akkoc in Ankara,
Istanbul (AFP) – A Turkish court issued arrest warrants Wednesday for two suspects close to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman over the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, increasing pressure on the kingdom’s de facto leader.
The chief prosecutor’s office in Istanbul filed an application on Tuesday to obtain the warrants for Ahmad al-Assiri and Saud al-Qahtani, described in court documents as being “among the planners” of Khashoggi’s grisly killing.
Then on Wednesday, an Istanbul court issued the arrest warrants for Assiri and Qahtani on the charge of “deliberately killing (someone) with monstrous feeling or causing torment”, according to state news agency Anadolu.
Assiri, the former deputy head of general intelligence, often sat in during Prince Mohammed’s closed-door meetings with visiting foreign dignitaries. Qahtani was a key counsellor to the crown prince.
Both were sacked after Riyadh admitted Khashoggi was killed in the Saudi consulate.
Saudi Arabia has sought to distance Prince Mohammed from the murder and has received support from US President Donald Trump.
His administration has downplayed possible links between the crown prince and what happened to Khashoggi, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defence Secretary Jim Mattis saying they had seen no direct ties.
But two key senators from Trump’s own Republican party said Tuesday that a briefing by the CIA’s director had strengthened their conviction that Prince Mohammed directed the murder.
After the hour-long briefing by CIA director Gina Haspel, US Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker said he had “zero question in my mind” that Prince Mohammed directed the killing.
Trump ally and fellow Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said the “crazy” crown prince was “complicit in the murder of Mr Khashoggi to the highest level possible”.
“You have to be willfully blind” not to conclude the murder was orchestrated by people under Prince Mohammed’s command, Graham added, in a swipe at Trump, Mattis and Pompeo.
On Wednesday, Mattis said Graham “has the right to his own opinion.”
“We believe in accountability for whoever was directly involved in the Khashoggi murder”, he told reporters.
“I am quite satisfied we will find more evidence of what happened. I just don’t know what it is going to be, or who will be implicated, but we will follow it as far as we can.”
- Remains not found –
Khashoggi, a Saudi contributor to the Washington Post, was killed shortly after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2 to obtain paperwork for his upcoming marriage.
According to Turkey, a 15-member Saudi team was sent to Istanbul to kill him.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said the order to kill Khashoggi came from the highest levels of the Saudi government, but has insisted it was not King Salman.
The Istanbul prosecutor in charge of the Turkish investigation said in late October that Khashoggi, a former Saudi insider turned critic, was strangled then his body was cut into pieces.
Turkish officials have searched the consulate, the consul-general’s residence, a forest in Istanbul and two villas in the northwestern province of Yalova, but Khashoggi’s remains have still not been found.
Riyadh, after initially denying that Khashoggi had been killed at the consulate, has detained 21 people over the murder and is seeking death penalties against five of them.
But it has strongly denied the crown prince was involved.
- Saudis ‘won’t take action’ –
A senior Turkish official said Wednesday that the prosecutor’s move “reflects the view that the Saudi authorities won’t take formal action against those individuals”.
Riyadh could “address those concerns” by extraditing the suspects to Turkey, the official said.
The official, who did not wish to be named, also suggested there could be more arrest warrants sought by the prosecutor.
Erdogan maintained pressure on Riyadh this week in an interview with reporters during his visit to South America, urging the kingdom to provide further details.
“Where is Khashoggi’s body? Your team of 20 knows this,” he demanded, the Hurriyet newspaper quoted him as saying.
On Saturday Erdogan insisted that the Saudis extradite suspects in the killing to Turkey for trial, but said the kingdom was not cooperating.
- Turkey seeks transparency –
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on Wednesday said Turkey would “not hesitate” to seek an international probe if there were difficulties during its investigation.
Cavusoglu also criticized the lack of evidence given to Turkey by Riyadh as he urged the kingdom to be “transparent”.
The murder has damaged Riyadh’s international reputation and Western countries including the US, France and Canada have placed sanctions on nearly 20 Saudi nationals.
Two-time Oscar winner Sean Penn was in Istanbul on Wednesday filming a documentary about the murder, Anadolu reported, sharing images of the American actor outside the consulate.