Saudi prosecutors sought the death penalty for five of the 11 suspects accused of killing journalist Jamal Khashoggi on Thursday as their trial began in Riyadh, Saudi Press Agency reported.
The trial comes three months after the Washington Post columnist and Saudi royal family insider-turned-critic was killed and allegedly dismembered at the consulate in Istanbul.
According to the Saudi Public Prosecutor, Turkey has not responded to requests to turn over relevant evidence in the case, SPA reported. Turkey in turn has repeatedly called for the culprits to be prosecuted under its laws.
Saudi prosecutors first announced their intention to seek the death penalty in November.
They alleged 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.
The Saudis have presented shifting stories about Khashoggi’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 the journalist’s death.
The Saudi attorney general later acknowledged that Khashoggi was killed in a premeditated murder.
Riyadh has maintained that neither bin Salman nor King Salman knew of the operation to target Khashoggi. US officials, however, have said such a mission – including 15 men sent from Riyadh – could not have been carried out without the authorization of bin Salman.
Reports: Body bags carried into consul general’s residence
The start of the trial comes just days after a Turkish pro-government television station circulated surveillance video of three men carrying five suitcases from the Saudi consulate into the consul general’s residence nearby, shortly after Khashoggi was killed at the consulate on October 2.
The TV channel A Haber and the Sabah newspaper, citing police and intelligence sources, reported that the bags were filled with Khashoggi’s body parts, and that they were moved by members of a Saudi “hit squad” sent to kill the journalist. CNN has not been able to independently verify those reports.
Three journalists for Sabah – Abdurrahman Şimşek, Nazif Karaman and Ferhat Ünlü – released a book about the killing on Friday. In it, they describe what is seen in the A Haber video that was released late Sunday.
A Mercedes van with diplomatic license plates “left the consulate at 3:08 p.m. and arrived at the consul general’s residence at 3:10 p.m.,” the journalists wrote. “Three men carried five different pieces of luggage that contained Jamal Khashoggi’s body parts. The five pieces of luggage entered into the residency and never left. Therefore, one strong possibility is that the body parts are at the well in the garden of the residency.”
The journalists named three men as the members of the hit squad who carried the bags into the consul general’s residence. The men were “in a rush,” according to the book.
Saudi Arabia responded to CNN’s request for comment by accusing Turkey of “politicizing” Khashoggi’s killing by leaking details of evidence to the media.
“The Saudi Public Prosecutor submitted formal requests to Turkish authorities to officially share evidence and information related to this case, including any recordings in the possession of Turkish authorities. The Saudi Public Prosecutor is still awaiting a response to these requests,” an official from the Saudi embassy in Washington told CNN. “The Kingdom will continue to uphold accountability and ensure justice is served within its laws,” the official said.
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.
All told, 21 people were arrested and six officials have been removed from their positions, according to the prosecutor and the Saudi Foreign Minister.
CNN’s Nada Altaher reported from Abu Dhabi, Chandler Thornton reported from Atlanta. Sheena McKenzie wrote in London. Bianca Britton and Sarah El Sirgany contributed to this report.