Saudi prosecutors seek death penalty as Khashoggi murder trial opens

Riyadh, Jan 3 (IANS): Saudi prosecutors sought the death penalty for five of the 11 suspects accused of murdering journalist Jamal Khashoggi as their trial began here on Thursday, the state media reported.

The trial came three months after the Washington Post columnist and Saudi royal family insider-turned-critic was killed and allegedly dismembered at the kingdom's consulate in Istanbul.

The public prosecutor said that 11 defendants were present alongside their lawyers at the first session and the prosecution demanded the death penalty for five for their role in the murder, the Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported.

A statement from Saudi prosecutors said that they sent a request to Turkey for relevant evidence that Ankara had collected in the case. Turkey, in turn, has repeatedly called for the culprits to be prosecuted under its laws.

Khashoggi went missing on October 2 after visiting the Saudi consulate in Turkey. Turkish authorities later said that he was murdered inside the consulate by a Saudi hit squad.

The Saudis had presented shifting accounts about the journalist's fate, initially denying any knowledge before arguing that a group of rogue operators, many of whom belong to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's inner circle, were responsible for Khashoggi's death.

Saudi prosecutors first announced their intention to seek the death penalty in November. They alleged that Khashoggi was tied up and injected with an overdose of a sedative that killed him. Then his body was dismembered and removed from the consulate by five people and given to a local collaborator.

After Saudi Arabia admitted Khashoggi was killed in its Istanbul consulate, five high-ranking officials were dismissed, including Bin Salman's media chief and the deputy head of the Saudi intelligence service.

Twenty-one people were arrested and six officials were removed from their positions.

Riyadh has maintained that neither the Crown Prince nor King Salman knew of the operation to target Khashoggi. US officials, however, had said such a mission -- including 15 men sent from Riyadh -- could not have been carried out without the authorization of Bin Salman.