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Friend tells court Saudi official close to crown prince threatened Khashoggi

Egyptian dissident says journalist was afraid after call from royal court’s one-time media czar Saud al-Qahtani, who is charged with orchestrating the murder

Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, January 29, 2011. (AP /Virginia Mayo, File)
Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, January 29, 2011. (AP /Virginia Mayo, File)

ISTANBUL — A close friend of Jamal Khashoggi told a Turkish court on Tuesday that the slain Saudi journalist felt threatened by people close to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The main court in Istanbul held a second hearing in the trial in absentia of 26 Saudi suspects in the Washington Post columnist’s high-profile murder — including two former aides to the powerful Saudi crown prince.

The 59-year-old was suffocated and dismembered inside the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate on October 2, 2018, after going inside to get documents for his marriage to Turkish fiancée Hatice Cengiz.

The murder sparked an international outcry and tarnished the reputation of the oil-rich kingdom and the crown prince.

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attends a virtual G-20 summit held over video conferencing, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, November 22, 2020. (Bandar Aljaloud/Saudi Royal Palace via AP)

The Turkish trial is being held separately from a Saudi one that overturned five death sentences issued after a closed-door hearing in September.

The Riyadh court instead jailed eight unidentified people for terms ranging from seven to 20 years in what Amnesty International and Reporters Without Borders (RSF) both called a “parody of justice.”

Turkish prosecutors have charged Saudi’s former deputy intelligence chief Ahmed al-Assiri and the royal court’s one-time media czar Saud al-Qahtani with orchestrating the murder and giving direct orders to a Saudi hit team.

Ayman Nour, owner of the Egyptian opposition TV channel El-Sharq speaks in front of the Istanbul courthouse on November 24, 2020 after attending the trial of 20 Saudi suspects accused of killing and dismembering dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi (Ozan KOSE / AFP)

Ayman Nour, an Egyptian political dissident and longtime friend of Khashoggi, told the court that the journalist had described to him being personally threatened by the Saudi media czar.

“Jamal said he had been threatened by Qahtani and his family,” Turkish media quoted Nour as telling the court.

“Nour said Khashoggi had reported being threatened by Saud al-Qahtani since 2016,” Rebecca Vincent of Reporters Without Borders (RSF) separately tweeted from the courtroom.

“Khashoggi spoke of a phone call from Qahtani when he was living in Washington DC, saying he knew his kids and where they lived. Nour said Khashoggi was crying, which was unusual, and said he was afraid.”

‘Highest levels’

Khashoggi’s fiancée Cengiz also attended Tuesday’s hearing, which was adjourned to March 4.

Hatice Cengiz, the fiancee of the killed Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, speaks during a memorial event for her fiancee at the Mechanical Engineers Institute in London, Monday October 29, 2018. (John Stillwell/PA via AP)

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said the order to murder Khashoggi came from “the highest levels” of the Saudi government but has never directly blamed Prince Mohammed.

Relations between the two countries suffered in the wake of Khashoggi’s death.

But Erdogan discussed ways to enhance ties with the prince’s aeing father King Salman on the eve of last weekend’s virtual G20 summit hosted by Saudi Arabia.

The Turkish trial is monitored closely by human rights advocates.

Vincent said the Istanbul court rejected RSF’s application to become a civil party in the Khashoggi’s case.

This would have given the Paris-based group broader access to court documents.

“We were disappointed,” Vincent told AFP, calling it “a missed opportunity to ensure robust international scrutiny.”

“But regardless we will continue to closely monitor this case and call for adherence to international standards,” she said.

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