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ISTANBUL — A Turkish court issued arrest warrants Wednesday for two close aides to Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s crown prince and de facto leader, after prosecutors accused the aides of helping plan the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Turkey’s state-run news agency said.
The aides, Maj. Gen. Ahmed al-Assiri and Saud al-Qahtani, are believed to be in Saudi Arabia, and there is little chance the Saudi government will surrender them to Turkish authorities. Rather, the warrants appeared to be part of a continuing effort by the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to pressure Saudi Arabia to reveal more details about Khashoggi’s killing, as well as to isolate the crown prince.
The warrants were issued a day after several U.S. senators accused Mohammed of complicity in the death, using some of their harshest language. They made the accusations after CIA Director Gina Haspel briefed them in an unusual closed-door session on evidence the agency has collected in the case.
“If the crown prince went in front of a jury, he would be convicted in 30 minutes,” Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said after the briefing.
Senior Trump administration officials have insisted that there is no “smoking-gun” evidence that shows Mohammed’s direct involvement. Saudi Arabia says that although its investigation is still underway, it has already absolved the crown prince.
Khashoggi, a contributor to The Washington Post and a sometime critic of Mohammed, was killed by a team of Saudi agents soon after entering the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2. His body was then dismembered, according to Turkish and Saudi prosecutors. His remains have not been found.
On Wednesday, Michelle Bachelet, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, called for an international investigation of the killing. “I do believe it is really needed in terms of ensuring what really happened and who are the [people] responsible for that awful killing,” she said at a news conference in Geneva, according to the Reuters news agency.
Turkey also has raised the possibility of an international investigation while aggressively pursuing its own inquiry. Prosecutors requested warrants for Assiri and Qahtani on Tuesday based on a “strong suspicion” that they were “among the planners” of Khashoggi’s killing, according to excerpts of the prosecution’s application that were provided by a Turkish official.
The prosecutors’ language placed responsibility for the death in the crown prince’s inner circle and left open the possibility that other senior Saudi officials were involved in its planning.
Assiri, an air force officer, served as spokesman for the Saudi-led military coalition fighting in Yemen before he was appointed deputy chief of Saudi intelligence in 2017 — a promotion that was said to reflect his close ties to the crown prince.
Qahtani, a friend and close adviser to Mohammed, was regarded as the royal court’s chief enforcer, promoting the kingdom’s aggressive policies on social media and supervising a crackdown on government opponents and dissidents. They included Khashoggi, who received several calls from Qahtani trying to persuade the journalist to end his exile in the United States and return to Saudi Arabia, Khashoggi’s friends said.
A few weeks after Khashoggi was killed, Saudi Arabia announced that Assiri and Qahtani had been fired from their posts. Saudi prosecutors have linked both men to a plot to bring Khashoggi back to Saudi Arabia alive but blamed the killing on lower-level operatives who purportedly acted outside their authority.
The Trump administration imposed sanctions on Qahtani and 16 other Saudi nationals last month for their involvement in Khashoggi’s death. Qahtani was “part of the planning and execution” of the operation, a U.S. Treasury Department statement said.
Although Saudi prosecutors said Assiri had issued the original order to bring Khashoggi back to Saudi Arabia, he was not on the list of people sanctioned by the United States.