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Treasury Department Sanctions Saudi Officials In Response To Killing Of Jamal Khashoggi

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

The U.S. Treasury Department has announced sanctions against 17 Saudi officials it says were involved in the killing of Jamal Khashoggi. They'll be cut off from U.S. businesses or assets. The group includes senior officials but not the country's powerful crown prince. The Treasury announcement came just after Saudi Arabia's top prosecutor announced he'll seek the death penalty for five Saudis involved in the killing. NPR's Jackie Northam reports.

JACKIE NORTHAM, BYLINE: The Treasury Department said it was sanctioning Saudi officials who targeted and brutally killed Jamal Khashoggi. Among them is Saoud al-Qahtani, a royal court adviser who is close to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and headed up his communication strategy. The Treasury Department said al-Qahtani took part in the planning and execution of the operation to kill the Saudi journalist. Also sanctioned is Mohammed al-Otaibi. He oversaw the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul where Khashoggi died in early October.

GERALD FEIERSTEIN: These are the things, I think, that the administration believes that they need to do in order to try to put this issue behind us and be able to move on with the relationship.

NORTHAM: That's Gerald Feierstein, director of Gulf affairs at the Middle East Institute and former U.S. ambassador to Yemen. He says the U.S. sanctions are a good step, but they do little to answer the one burning question. Did Saudi Arabia's powerful crown prince order Khashoggi's death?

FEIERSTEIN: My guess is that until people are satisfied that the investigation has gone to the most senior levels of the Saudi government, particularly the crown prince, it's unlikely that there's going to be a level of satisfaction.

NORTHAM: In Riyadh earlier today, Saudi Arabia's top prosecutor did try to answer lingering questions. He wrapped up the kingdom's investigation into Khashoggi's death.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Foreign language spoken).

NORTHAM: A spokesman for the prosecutor described the operation to kill Khashoggi, that it had been planned three days in advance and that a former deputy intelligence chief had organized a team of 15 men to carry out the operation. The prosecutor's office did not name the five Saudis who could face a death penalty for the killing. It also indicted another 11 people.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Foreign language spoken).

NORTHAM: The investigation found no senior member of the royal court responsible for Khashoggi's death. Robert Jordan is a former ambassador to Saudi Arabia from 2001 to 2003. He says there should be an international investigation into Khashoggi's death to help quell the skepticism about a transparent investigation. Jordan says it should include an audio recording released by Turkey to several Western countries of the final moments of Khashoggi's life.

ROBERT JORDAN: The audiotape needs to be listened to at least by an independent international tribunal of some kind. It's certainly possible that the tape by itself doesn't implicate the crown prince, but it may well suggest avenues of investigation. It may also bring into question the account by the prosecutor.

NORTHAM: Meanwhile, officials in Turkey, which has been leaking a steady stream of information about the Khashoggi killing, said the Saudi investigation hasn't done enough to get at the truth. Jackie Northam, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MICHAEL BROOK'S "LIGAMENT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.