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Court In Saudi Arabia Sentences 5 To Death In Killing Of Khashoggi

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Saudi Arabia's public prosecutor announced this morning that five people have been sentenced to death for last year's murder of Jamal Khashoggi. Let's recall that Khashoggi, a columnist for The Washington Post and critic of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was killed in the country's consulate in Istanbul. Investigators believe the killers then dismembered and disposed of Khashoggi's body. U.S. intelligence concluded that the crown prince was involved in the decision to kill Khashoggi. NPR's Jane Arraf has covered this grisly story from the beginning. And she joins us now from Amman, Jordan. Hi, Jane.

JANE ARRAF, BYLINE: Hi there.

GREENE: So what do we know about the people who've been convicted at this point?

ARRAF: Well, still a lot of questions about that because this trial was very secretive. There were, apparently, a few diplomats let into the trial, as well as some members of Khashoggi's family. Those members, of course, living in Saudi Arabia, are under Saudi pressure. So the names have not been released yet. We do know that five of them were sentenced to death. That can be appealed, though.

And the thing that's important about this is who wasn't sentenced. The trial determined that two top officials, the Saudi crown prince's former top adviser and the consul general in Istanbul, where Khashoggi was killed, were innocent. And it absolved them of blame. Now, the U.S. doesn't believe this. It's placed both of those men on sanctions for involvement in the killing.

GREENE: Well, then you have the question of the crown prince. I mean, Saudi Arabia maintains that he had nothing to do with this. I mean, have we learned more about this killing in the time since?

ARRAF: Oh, so many questions. We still don't know what exactly happened. But what seems clear is that the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who initially said that he knew nothing about it, probably did. Now, what we know about this very grisly killing is mostly from the Turkish government. He was killed in the consulate last October after he went there to get papers for his marriage. And during that time, he was confronted by Saudi agents who had flown in on a private plane - one of them, the head of the autopsy department, carrying a bone saw. The Turks released what they say are recordings of part of the process in which he was killed. The body disappeared. His remains still haven't been found.

GREENE: Can we just step back for a minute? I mean, you mentioned the U.S. sanctions on some of these people believed to be involved here. How much has the U.S.-Saudi relationship been impacted by Khashoggi's death and the investigation since then?

ARRAF: Well, Khashoggi was a columnist who wrote for publications including The Washington Post. He was a U.S. resident. Saudi Arabia is not seen as the most fantastic of allies, not just for this but for its involvement in the war in Yemen and other things. But there are a couple of things about the U.S.-Saudi relationship. One is - and perhaps the most important one - is that President Trump really values this relationship, as does his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who has bonded with the Saudi crown prince.

Trump has made the point that there are billions and billions of dollars at stake in U.S. arms deals, arms sold to Saudi Arabia. That doesn't really wash with a lot of other officials. And, in fact, the Senate has asked for the head of U.S. intelligence to come and brief them on what they know because the CIA has concluded, according to a lot of reports, that, in fact, the Saudi crown prince was involved in ordering the killing.

GREENE: NPR's Jane Arraf in Amman, Jordan. Thanks, Jane.

ARRAF: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.