A special UN investigator called for further investigation of high-level Saudi officials, including Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, in the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Agnes Callamard, a human rights expert who is a special rapporteur for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, released a 101-page report on her months-long inquiry into Khashoggi's death at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.
The report provides new, grisly details of Khashoggi's death that Callamard gleaned from listening to audio provided by Turkish authorities. The audio captured Saudi agents discussing the dismemberment of Khashoggi's body before he arrived at the consulate, as well as his killing, the report said.
Callamard said the culpability for Khashoggi's killing extends beyond the 11 Saudis who are on trial in a closed-door judicial proceeding in Saudi Arabia. She called it an extrajudicial killing, possibly involving torture, for which the kingdom of Saudi Arabia is responsible, and she said Saudi authorities had participated in the destruction of evidence.
Although Callamard said she found no "smoking gun" incriminating the crown prince himself, she said he had played an essential role in a campaign of repressing dissidents and almost certainly knew that a criminal mission targeting Khashoggi was being planned. She said there was "credible evidence" that he was in some way responsible for Khashoggi's murder.
"Evidence points to the 15-person mission to execute Mr Khashoggi requiring significant government coordination, resources and finances," she wrote. "While the Saudi Government claims that these resources were put in place by Ahmed Asiri, every expert consulted finds it inconceivable that an operation of this scale could be implemented without the Crown Prince being aware, at a minimum, that some sort of mission of a criminal nature, directed at Mr Khashoggi, was being launched."
Asiri, Saudi Arabia's former deputy head of intelligence, is one of two senior Saudi officials implicated by the kingdom's prosecutors in the killing, and the only senior official on trial.
Callamard's account of Khashoggi's death is the most definitive to date, even though her inquiry was hampered by Saudi Arabia's refusal to allow her to visit the kingdom to conduct interviews. The US has so far avoided apportioning blame, saying it is still learning details.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and US President Donald Trump have deplored the killing of Khashoggi, who was a contributing columnist for the Washington Post in the year before his death. But they have said the relationship with Saudi Arabia, a key ally in the Administration's campaign against Iran, is too important to be sidetracked by a single incident.
Pompeo recently said the US, invoking emergency powers because of the rising tensions with Iran, will sell weapons worth US$8 billion to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
Adel al-Jubeir, the kingdom's minister of state for foreign affairs, dismissed Callamard's report and its recommendations in a series of messages on Twitter, saying that the report contained "nothing new" and included "contradictions and unfounded allegations." He also rejected the report's calls for a UN-assisted criminal inquiry into the killing, saying that the "judicial authorities in the kingdom are the only ones competent to hear this case."
"Callamard's report underscores that there will be no justice for Jamal Khashoggi unless Congress steps up," said Rob Berschinski, vice-president for policy for Human Rights First. "Saudi leaders have made it clear that they intend to get away with murder. President Trump has made it clear that he values arms sales over the killing and dismemberment of a US resident. Congress must make it clear that it will not let this stand."
In an interview from Geneva, Callamard characterised the US response to Khashoggi's murder as ambiguous and conflicted.
"At the highest level of the US Government, there has not been a determination to hold to account the state of Saudi Arabia," she said, while praising Congress for seeking to hold the crown prince accountable. The Trump Administration was one of the first to impose sanctions against 17 suspects, but Callamard said those steps were insufficient.
Among the report's reccommendations is targeted sanctions against Mohammed, including freezing his assets, until a criminal investigation either implicates or absolves him.
"To the extent that the responsibility of higher level officials is possibly presumably at stake, those higher level individuals, such as the crown prince, must be incuded," she said.
Callamard said she found insufficient evidence to conclude that either Turkey or the US knew or should have known and warned Khashoggi of a threat to his life. Nor did she find evidence that US intelligence had intercepted the crown prince's communications suggesting he wanted Khashoggi dead.
Callamard was harsh in her assessment of Saudi Arabia and its response to Khashoggi's death. She said the kingdom has taken only "timid steps" to prosecute 11 suspects. She noted that the trial is closed and that not even the names of the accused have been publicly released. Saying she was concerned about a miscarriage of justice, she called for the trial to be suspended.
Callamard said she was permitted to listen to audio recordings that captured events inside the consulate in the days before Khashoggi visited and on the day of his killing. They amounted to 45 minutes of conversation - a small fraction of the seven hours of audio captured by Turkish intelligence.
Some of the audio was hard to make out. "For instance, on the basis of recordings, the Special Rapporteur could not reach firm conclusions about what [she and her investigators] were told was the sound of a 'saw' in operation. The Turkish authorities undoubtedly have more information and intelligence about events in the Saudi Consulate than they were willing or able to share with the inquiry," the report said.
According to the report, 13 minutes before Khashoggi entered the consulate on October 2, two of the Saudi agents, Maher Mutreb and Salah Tubaigy, a forensic expert, discussed dismembering the body.
"Joints will be separated," Tubaigy told Mutreb. "First time I cut on the ground. If we take plastic bags and cut it into pieces, it will be finished." Khashoggi's name was not mentioned, but rather he was referred to as the "sacrificial animal" by Mutreb.
The report also said that Tubaigy "expressed concerns" about what was about to transpire, telling Mutreb: "My direct manager is not aware of what I am doing. There is no one to protect me."
The audio tape suggests they attempted to make Khashoggi believe he would be kidnapped, not killed, and repatriated to Saudi Arabia.
After Khashoggi arrived at the Saudi Consulate, he was invited to the consul general's office and asked whether he would return to Saudi Arabia.
"He responded that he wanted to return in the future," the report states.
But the Saudi agents, using the pretext of an Interpol warrant, said they were there to bring him back to the kingdom.
More conversation followed, the report said. Khashoggi insisted that people were waiting for him outside, as one of the agents tried to persuade him to send a message to his son. "What should I say?" Khashoggi asked. "See you soon? I can't say kidnapping."
"Type it Mr Jamal," one of the agents replied. "Hurry up. Help us so that we can help you because at the end we will take you back to Saudi Arabia and if you don't help us you know what will happen at the end."
Then, in the recordings, "sounds of a struggle can be heard," the report said.