The United States on Thursday announced sanctions against 17 Saudis for their alleged role in the death of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at Riyadh's consulate in Istanbul.
Among those sanctioned were Saud al-Qahtani, a former top aide to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, as well as Saudi Consul General Mohammed Alotaibi.
"These individuals who targeted and brutally killed a journalist who resided and worked in the United States must face consequences for their actions," Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said in a statement.
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The sanctions will be implemented under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, which targets those who have committed serious human rights abuses or acts of corruption. The announcement was somewhat surprising given that the United States rarely imposes sanctions on Saudi Arabia.
Mnuchin also said Washington was continuing to try to determine the facts of the case and would hold accountable everyone found responsible for the journalist's death last month.
Also Thursday, NBC News reported that the Trump administration was looking for legal ways to remove Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, who is sought by the Turkish government, from his self-imposed exile in the United States. The report said the move might be linked to the Khashoggi case.
Possible Saudi angle
NBC said the Trump administration might be seeking to persuade Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to ease pressure on the Saudi government, an important U.S. ally. Erdogan has alleged that the order to kill Khashoggi came from the "highest levels" of the Saudi government, but Saudi officials have denied the crown prince was involved.
The NBC report cited four sources saying Trump administration officials last month asked the FBI and Justice Department to reopen a case for Gulen's extradition. The sources said the Trump administration asked the Homeland Security Department for details of Gulen's legal status in the United States.
Gulen has lived in the United States since 1999. Erdogan accuses Gulen of supporting a failed coup attempt against the Turkish government in 2016.
After the coup attempt, Turkey formally requested that Gulen be extradited to Turkey, but U.S. law enforcement officials said they had no evidence that would justify it.
NBC also reported, citing the same sources, that U.S. and Turkish officials have discussed forcing Gulen to relocate to South Africa, but added that U.S. officials said they had no legal basis for doing so.
Gulen's media adviser, Alp Aslandogan, told the Reuters news agency that he was not aware of any new U.S. inquiries about Gulen.
The National Security Council, FBI, State Department, Justice Department and Department of Homeland Security all either declined to comment or did not answer NBC's requests for comment.
White House denial
A White House official told Reuters that the story was "not accurate" but did not elaborate. A senior Turkish official told Reuters that the Gulen case and the Khashoggi matter were "separate issues."
The U.S. announced the sanctions hours after Saudi Arabia's public prosecutor requested the death penalty for five suspects in Khashoggi's death.
Khashoggi, who was a Washington Post columnist and critic of the crown prince, was killed Oct. 2 after visiting the consulate in Istanbul to arrange for his marriage.
A spokesman for the prosecutor's office said Thursday that Khashoggi was given a lethal injection, and after he died his body was dismembered.
Saudi officials have given numerous explanations since Khashoggi went missing, including saying that he had actually left the consulate on his own; that he had died after a fight; and that he was killed during a "rogue operation."
The prosecutor said the death sentences were recommended for five people "charged with ordering and committing the crime," while six others who have been charged in connection with the killing should receive "the appropriate sentences."
Saudi Arabia is also asking for Turkey's help in providing evidence and information from its investigation. Turkey has been slowly releasing details during the past month.