Jamal Khashoggi: UK government considers 'next steps' as Saudi Arabia admits dissident journalist died in Istanbul consulate

Foreign Office insists those responsible for killing 'must be held to account' as Britain contemplates action against Riyadh

Tom Barnes
Sunday 21 October 2018 02:01 BST
Trump says arrests in Saudi writer's death 'big step'

The British government is considering its “next steps” after Saudi Arabia admitted dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed inside its Istanbul consulate.

Saudi authorities announced on Friday evening the Washington Post reporter, an outspoken critic of the regime in his homeland, had died following a “fist fight” at the building earlier this month.

State TV reported 18 people had been arrested in connection with the killing and both a senior intelligence officer and an aide to crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom’s de facto leader, had been dismissed.

A source close to the Saudi leadership told The Independent the suspects were thought to have had handed Khashaggi's remains to a local collaborator after his killing.

The UK Foreign Office said on Saturday it was considering what action to now take following the confirmation of the journalist's death.

Foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt has previously warned there would be “consequences” for the UK’s currently cordial relationship with Saudi Arabia if it transpired the reporter had indeed been murdered.

“We send our condolences to Jamal Khashoggi’s family after this confirmation of his death,” the Foreign Office said in a statement.

“We are considering the Saudi report and our next steps. As the foreign secretary has said, this was a terrible act and those responsible must be held to account.”

Labour’s shadow foreign secretary, Emily Thornberry, has called for action to be taken against the kingdom, tweeting late on Friday: “The Saudi lies and impunity must stop here.

“We have heard the same excuses time and again from Saudi Arabia on Yemen, and now on Khashoggi: when disgraceful atrocities are committed, they call them unintended mistakes, and the world does nothing,” she said.

Meanwhile, shadow trade secretary Barry Gardiner said Labour would suspend arms sales to Saudi Arabia following the announcement.

“We must look very carefully again at the relationship we have with Saudi Arabia,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

“What we would do certainly at the moment, and I think the government should do this, is to suspend all arms sales to the kingdom.”

Mr Gardiner acknowledged there were a “lot of jobs” in the UK linked to the trade but said: “This is about who we are as a country”.

“We have a thriving defence industry and, of course, this would be a hit to that industry,” he added.

Michael Stephens, senior research fellow at defence think tank the Royal United Services Institute, said actions taken so far by Saudi Arabia were unlikely to prevent the West imposing penalties against it.

“Many will find the Saudi reaction unsatisfactory, and it is highly unlikely that Western states will see this explanation as sufficient,” he said.

“Although two well-known officials have been fired, and the crown prince given a new remit to reform the kingdom’s intelligence services, the move is unlikely to prevent Western nations from pursuing some form of punitive action.

“Tensions will remain high between the kingdom and its traditional partners for some time to come.”

Jamal Khashoggi: Everything we know

Former MI6 chief Sir John Sawers claimed on Friday “all the evidence” suggested Khashoggi had been murdered on the orders of someone close to the crown prince.

Turkish government sources have alleged the journalist was tortured and murdered and by a hit squad flown in from Riyadh.

The Saudis first dismissed the claims as baseless, without providing an explanation as to how he disappeared after entering the consulate on 2 October.

News of the arrests came as it was reported that members of the suspected hit squad came to Britain during the Saudi crown prince’s state visit in March, during which he met the Queen and Theresa May.

At least three of the suspects, First Lieutenant Dhaar Ghalib Dhaar Al-Harbi, Sergeant Major Walid Abdullah Al-Shihri and Abdul Aziz Muhammad Musa Al-Hawsawi, were part of the crown prince’s entourage, the news site Middle East Eye reported.

It is also alleged Saudi Arabia deployed an online army to harass Mr Khashoggi and other critics of the kingdom on Twitter, the New York Times reported on Saturday.

The efforts to attack Mr Khashoggi and other influential Saudis, and sway public opinion against them on the social media service, included a so-called troll farm based in Riyadh and a suspected spy within Twitter that the kingdom utilized to monitor user accounts, the paper said.

Additional reporting by PA

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