WASHINGTON - The Treasury Department has designated 17 Saudi Arabians for involvement in the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, imposing sanctions that freeze any assets under U.S. jurisdiction and prohibit Americans from dealings with them.
All of the 17, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement, were "involved in the abhorrent killing" that "targeted and brutally killed a journalist who resided and worked in the United States [and] must face consequences for their actions."
Mnuchin indicated that the United States would continue investigating to determine whether others were also responsible and said that "the government of Saudi Arabia must take appropriate steps to end any targeting of political dissidents or journalists."
The Treasury announcement followed the release of a statement in Riyadh saying 11 unnamed Saudi citizens had been indicted in the crime, which took place when Khashoggi visited the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2. It said authorities would seek the death penalty against five of those indicted.
Neither the U.S. nor Saudi statement implicated Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, whom Turkey has indirectly accused of ordering Khashoggi's death. A spokesman for the Saudi prosecutor, speaking at a news conference in Riyadh, said Mohammed had no knowledge of the operation.
The Treasury sanctions list included Saud al-Qahtani, a former senior aide to the crown prince; the Saudi consul general in Istanbul, Mohammed al-Otaibi, in whose diplomatic mission Khashoggi was killed; and Maher Mutreb, described as a Qahtani "subordinate," a security official who has frequently traveled with Mohammed and was photographed entering and leaving the consulate in Istanbul on the day of the killing. The other 14, it said, were "members of an operations team" who had a role in the death.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who has been the administration's point man on the Khashoggi matter, said in a statement that "at the time of the killing," the sanctioned individuals "occupied positions in the Royal Court and several ministries and offices of the Government of Saudi Arabia."
"Our action today is an important step in responding to Khashoggi's killing," Pompeo said. "The State Department will continue to seek all relevant facts, consult Congress, and work with other nations to hold accountable those involved in the killing of Jamal Khashoggi."
The sanctions are being imposed under the Global Magnitsky Act, a U.S. law that empowers the United States to sanction human rights abusers abroad. A bipartisan group of senators, including Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), last month called on President Trump to determine whether the Saudi government had violated the act and to "consider any relevant information, including with respect to the highest-ranking officials in the Government of Saudi Arabia."
Several U.S. lawmakers have called on the administration to withhold arms sales to Saudi Arabia, the world's largest purchaser of U.S. defense equipment, over the Khashoggi case and the U.S.-aided war in Yemen. Many, along with current and former U.S. officials and Middle East experts, have said that the Istanbul operation would not have been launched without the knowledge and approval of Mohammed, considered Saudi Arabia's de facto leader under his father, King Salman.
Most of the initial congressional response to the sanctions called them a good first step but insufficient.
"As I review this list, it's clear that it is not comprehensive," Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., a member of the foreign relations, armed services and appropriations committees, said in a statement. "America's response to Khashoggi's murder has significant implications for our credibility around the globe, and there must be further sanctions on Saudi leadership who ordered this assassination."
"I am disturbed that following repeated Saudi lies about what happened to Jamal, the administration appears to be following the Saudi playbook of blaming mid-level officials and exonerating its leadership," said Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., referring to Saudi explanations that have changed repeatedly since the killing. Khashoggi's body still has not been located, and Turkish officials have said audiotapes of the killing indicate he was dismembered.
Another Democrat, Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut, said he would escalate ongoing efforts to pass legislation, which has garnered some Republican support, to stop all U.S. arms sales and assistance to the Saudis for use in the Yemen war.
The most pithy statement came from Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who said on Twitter that "putting sanctions on people who are already in jail means nothing. These individuals might lose their heads, do you think they care? We are pretending to do something and doing NOTHING."
Human Rights First also called the sanctions "the right decision." But, the rights organization said in a statement, "in failing to sanction the crown prince or members of his inner circle, or taking other actions with respect to Saudi repression at home or its activities in Yemen, the administration isn't taking a particularly strong stand in terms of accountability."
Trump and other members of his administration have emphasized Saudi Arabia's importance to U.S. objectives in the Middle East, including a pending Israeli-Palestinian peace plan and the campaign against Iran, and stressed the economic importance of the arms sales.
Among the differences between the U.S. and Saudi statements Thursday, Treasury's account appeared to indicate a planned killing, while the Saudi prosecutor said the decision to kill Khashoggi was made on site by a minor official, presumably one of the agents who had been sent to bring him back to Saudi Arabia.
The prosecutor's version of events hewed closely to a Saudi statement last month saying that the agents had been ordered only to persuade, or if necessary to force, the return to Saudi Arabia of Khashoggi, a U.S. resident and contributing columnist for The Washington Post who has written critically of the ruling monarchy. Instead, the indictment statement said, he was administered a lethal injection after fighting with the agents.
The original repatriation order, it said, was issued by Ahmed al-Assiri, a former deputy head of intelligence and close aide to Mohammed. The prosecutor said Qahtani was also involved in planning Khashoggi's return. The Saudi government announced last month that both Assiri and Qahtani had been fired for their involvement in the case, but did not specify what that involvement was. Thursday's statement by the prosecutor did not say whether either was among those indicted and provided no other names.
The Treasury statement did not name Assiri among those sanctioned.
This article was written by Karen DeYoung, a reporter for The Washington Post. The Post's Carol Morello contributed to this report.