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Suspects in missing Saudi journalist case linked to Crown Prince: Report

Washington

17-October-2018

One of the suspects identified by Turkey in the disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was a frequent companion of the kingdom's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the media reported.

Three other suspects were linked to Prince Mohammed's security detail and a fifth was a forensic doctor, holding senior positions in the Saudi Interior Ministry and medical establishment, the New York Times reported on Tuesday.

One suspect, Maher Abdulaziz Mutreb, was a diplomat assigned to the Saudi Embassy in London in 2007, according to a British diplomatic roster. He travelled extensively with the Crown Prince, perhaps as a bodyguard, the report said.

According to the Times, the other three suspects were Abdulaziz Mohammed al-Hawsawi -- a member of the security team that travels with the crown prince; Thaar Ghaleb al-Harbi, and Muhammed Saad Alzahrani.

Two people with the same names -- Al-Harbi and Alzahrani -- were identified as members of the Saudi Royal Guard, the Times said.

The fifth suspect was Salah al-Tubaigy -- an autopsy expert, who the Times said identified himself on Twitter as the head of the Saudi Scientific Council of Forensics. 

Meanwhile, a CNN report said that the Saudi operation that resulted in the apparent death of Khashoggi in Istanbul, Turkey, was organized by a high-ranking officer with Saudi Arabia's main intelligence service, the General Intelligence Presidency.

The report described the officer as close to the inner circle of the Saudi Crown Prince. 

These developments raise doubts about US President Donald Trump's claim that the journalist may have been murdered by "rogue killers". He has been refraining from pointing a finger at Saudi Arabia, one of Washington's principal allies in the Middle East.

Cautioning against rushing to blame Saudi Arabia over Khashoggi's disappearance, Trump said King Salman strongly denied to him any knowledge of what happened.

The US leader said that Riyadh was being treated as "guilty until proven innocent".

Khashoggi -- a permanent resident of the US in self-imposed exile who penned a column in the Washington Post and was a fierce critic of Riyadh's human rights violations and of the Crown Prince's policies -- has been missing since he entered the kingdom's consulate in Istanbul on October 2 for paperwork needed for his planned marriage.

Turkish officials say that the journalist was killed by a special team of 15 Saudi officials sent to Istanbul for the task. They say that the team assassinated Khashoggi, dismembered his body with a bone saw they had brought for the purpose and flew out the same day. 

Records showed that two private jets chartered by a Saudi company with close ties to the Saudi Crown Prince and Interior Ministry arrived and left Istanbul on the day of Khashoggi's disappearance.

However, Saudi authorities maintain that Khashoggi left the consulate the same afternoon but have provided no evidence to support the claim.

The New York Times confirmed that at least nine of 15 suspects identified by Turkish authorities worked for the Saudi security services, military or other government ministries. 

CNN on Monday cited sources as saying the Saudis were preparing a report that Khashoggi died in a botched interrogation, while The Wall Street Journal said the kingdom was weighing whether to say that rogue operatives killed Khashoggi by mistake.

Trump and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who visited the kingdom for talks on the issue, said the Crown Prince informed them that an investigation into the matter had begun and answers would be forthcoming shortly.-IANS