The U.S. Treasury Department announced on Thursday that it was sanctioning 17 Saudi nationals in response to the killing of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul.
The sanctions, which will be imposed under the Global Magnitsky Act, target Saud al-Qahtani, a former top aide to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and Mohammed al-Otaibi, the Saudi consul general in Istanbul, among others. The U.S. believes that al-Qahtani helped lead and plan the operation, and the Treasury Department said on Thursday that al-Otaibi oversaw the killing.
The Treasury Department did not sanction the crown prince himself, although The Daily Beast reported that officials were considering taking such an action last month. One of the individuals added to the sanctions list, Meshal Saad al-Bostani, was reportedly killed in a “suspicious car accident” in Riyadh just days after Khashoggi’s death.
“The United States continues to diligently work to ascertain all of the facts and will hold accountable each of those we find responsible in order to achieve justice for Khashoggi’s fiancée, children, and the family he leaves behind,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said. “The Government of Saudi Arabia must take appropriate steps to end any targeting of political dissidents or journalists.”
Earlier Thursday, the top prosecutor in Riyadh said 11 people were indicted in connection with Khashoggi’s murder, five of whom could face the death penalty. The U.S. did not sanction the kingdom’s deputy intelligence chief, Ahmad al-Assiri, who was among the 11 people indicted.
Lawmakers who have received classified briefings about the circumstances surrounding Khashoggi’s murder have said it was likely that the crown prince ordered the operation that led to the Washington Post columnist’s death, and the new U.S. sanctions will be seen as backing up Saudi Arabia’s actions which essentially exculpate the crown prince. Senators said the sanctions were a necessary but insufficient first step.
“[S]trikingly absent from this announcement are the people—or the person—who ordered the attack,” said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT). “We can’t blindly accept the results of a Saudi-led inquiry to determine who to hold responsible. If the American response starts and ends with placing sanctions on a handful of low-level officials, we are letting Saudi Arabia off the hook for kidnapping and murdering a Washington Post writer. That’s unacceptable.”
The announcement comes a month after the Senate Foreign Relations Committee triggered an investigation under the Global Magnitsky Act, which was enacted in 2016 as a way to punish human-rights abusers. Under that law, all 17 individuals will be blocked from accessing U.S. financial markets and will no longer be able to exchange assets with Americans.
In the meantime, lawmakers have called for harsher punishments, including cutting off U.S. arms sales to the kingdom and ending U.S. support for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen’s civil war. So far, the Trump administration has said it would no longer refuel Saudi jets for the kingdom’s bombing campaign in Yemen, but President Donald Trump himself has defended the arms sales as a necessary booster for the U.S. economy.
Khashoggi, a Saudi citizen and legal U.S. resident, was killed inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2.