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US imposes Saudi sanctions over Khashoggi murder

October 24, 2018

The US State Department is to revoke visas or make them unobtainable for 21 Saudis following the killing of Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey. President Donald Trump said the Saudis staged the "worst cover-up ever."

President Donald Trump in the White House
Image: Reuters/K. Lamarque

US President Donald Trump described the cover-up by Saudi Arabia of the killing of Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2 as "a total fiasco," as the US State Department revoked visas or imposed entry restrictions on 21 Saudi nationals over the incident.

"There should have never been an execution or a cover-up, because it should have never happened," Trump told reporters at the White House on Tuesday.

"Bad deal, should have never been thought of," Trump said, adding: "Somebody really messed up. And they had the worst cover-up ever."

The Saudi consul's residence in Istanbul
The Saudi consul's residence in IstanbulImage: Reuters/File Photo/O. Orsal

Following the US lead, London also imposed visa restrictions on the suspects in the Khashoggi case.

"The Home Secretary is taking action against all suspects to prevent them entering the UK. If these individuals currently have visas, those visas will be revoked today," Prime Minister Theresa May told UK lawmakers on Wednesday.

"There does remain an urgent need to establish exactly what has happened in relation to this ... I myself expect to speak to King Salman later today."

While 82-year-old King Salman remains the Saudi head of state, the power has shifted to his son, Mohammed bin Salman, due to the king's declining health. The crown prince denies involvement in the Khashoggi killing.

After talking to Mohammed bin Salman on Tuesday, Trump said that the prince "strongly said that he had nothing to do with this, this was at a lower level." 

Previously, Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had dismissed Saudi attempts to blame Khashoggi's death on rogue operatives. He urged Riyadh to search "from top to bottom" to find those responsible.

Read more: Turkey using Jamal Khashoggi's killing as political leverage

'Ruthless action' to silence reporter

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the US had identified some individuals in the Saudi government and security officials they believed were involved. Appropriate action — including revoking visas for some, and making others ineligible should they apply for a visa. Most of the 21 people on the US list have US visas, an official told Reuters.

"We're making very clear that the United States does not tolerate this kind of ruthless action to silence Mr Khashoggi, a journalist, through violence,” Pompeo said. "Neither the President nor I am happy with this situation."

Read more: Jamal Khashoggi's murder through the lens of Middle Eastern media

Chancellor Angela Merkel announced earlier this week that arms sales to Saudi Arabia would be put on hold following the Khashoggi killing. The much-vaunted Saudi investment conference "Davos in the Desert" has been hit by numerous cancellations, including by Germany's Siemens, following the killing.

Mohammed bin Salman was due to speak at the summit on Wednesday in his first public comments since the murder of Khashoggi.

No Saudi grudges against conference dropouts

More sanctions to come?

Pompeo emphasized, as Trump had done before him, the importance of the US-Saudi relationship. However, he also said: "These penalties will not be the last word on this matter from the United States."

So far, 18 people have been arrested in Saudi Arabia and five senior government officials have been dismissed as part of an investigation into Khashoggi's death.

It is believed that Turkey has audio of the events inside the consulate, which it is yet to release. Security sources in Ankara say when Khashoggi entered the building in Istanbul he was seized by 15 Saudi intelligence operatives who had flown in on two jets just a few hours before.

Meanwhile, Turkish investigators were due to search a well in the garden of the Saudi consulate, after the Saudi side temporarily denied them access.

jm, dj/msh (Reuters, AP)

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