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State Dept bars 16 Saudi nationals from US over Khashoggi murder

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The US State Department has banned 16 Saudis it believes to be complicit in the gruesome murder of the Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi from entering the US. One of the alleged culprits is not included on the blacklist.

In a statement on Monday, US State Secretary Mike Pompeo said that he formally designated 16 Saudi nationals as persons sanctioned under the Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Act, over their role in Khashoggi’s killing. Among those who will be barred from setting foot on US soil are former members of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s inner circle, including his former aide Saud al-Qahtani and his former bodyguard, Maher Mutreb.

The list released by the State Department includes the very same names on the list of sanctioned individuals released by the US Department of Treasury last November, save one exception. Then, 17 individuals fell under sanctions ensuing from the Global Magnitsky Act, a piece of legislation that allows the US to crack down on supposed human rights violators by freezing their assets and preventing US citizens from having any dealings with them.

While there is only one person missing from the State Department’s new list, he is not believed to be an ordinary hitman. Mohammad al-Otaibi was consul-general at the Istanbul consulate at the time of the crime and is said to have personally witnessed Khashoggi’s ordeal, though he reportedly was a reluctant observer.

Turkish media reported that al-Otaibi’s voice could be discerned on one of the recordings made while Khashoggi was tortured and interrogated inside the consulate’s premises. Al-Otaibi reportedly told the members of the 15-man hit squad to do their dirty business “somewhere else outside” so he wouldn’t get in trouble.

One of the hitmen allegedly told the diplomat to “shut up” if he was hoping to live upon his eventual return to the kingdom. Shortly after the events that transpired at the embassy on October 2 turned into a snowballing scandal, Al-Otaibi returned to Saudi Arabia. He is among 20 other suspects currently on an international arrest warrant issued by Interpol at Turkey’s request.

The US, which has struck arms deals worth billions with Riyadh under the Trump administration, has faced criticism for going light on the oil-rich kingdom. US President Donald Trump has stuck by his ally, MBS, despite his own intelligence concluding with “medium to high confidence” that the Saudi strongman was responsible for the killing. The demands by lawmakers, including from Trump’s Republican Party, to name bin Salman as responsible for the murder have so far fallen on deaf ears.

A recent report by the Washington Post alleged that the US might be deeper involved in the murder than it was previously thought. It claims several suspects in the case have links to the US, including the group’s alleged leader, Maher Mutreb, who received training there.

[source: RT]
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