U.S. to seek death penalty for accused Pittsburgh synagogue shooter

FILE PHOTO: Flowers and other items have been left as memorials outside the Tree of Life synagogue following last Saturday's shooting in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S., November 3, 2018. REUTERS/Alan Freed

By Alex Dobuzinskis

(Reuters) – U.S. prosecutors will seek the death penalty for a Pennsylvania man accused of bursting into a Pittsburgh synagogue last year with a semi-automatic rifle and shooting 11 people to death, according to court papers filed on Monday.

Robert Bowers, 46, shouted “all Jews must die” as he fired on congregants gathered for Sabbath services at the Tree of Life synagogue on Oct. 27, authorities said.

Bowers, who is from a Pittsburgh suburb, has pleaded not guilty in U.S. District Court in Pittsburgh to a 63-count indictment and is awaiting trial though a trial date has not been set. The charges include using a firearm to commit murder and obstruction of free exercise of religious belief resulting in death, the court filing said.

“Robert Bowers expressed hatred and contempt toward members of the Jewish faith and his animus toward members of the Jewish faith played a role in the killings,” prosecutors said.

The massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue was the deadliest attack ever on Jewish Americans in the United States.

The synagogue is a fixture in Pittsburgh’s historically Jewish neighborhood of Squirrel Hill, which is home to one of the largest and oldest Jewish populations in the United States.

Bowers targeted that location “to maximize the devastation, amplify the harm of his crimes and instill fear within the local, national and international Jewish communities,” prosecutors said in court papers.

An attorney for Bowers, death penalty specialist Judy Clarke, did not return calls or an email seeking comment.

FILE PHOTO: The facade of the Tree of Life synagogue, where a mass shooting occurred last Saturday, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S., November 3, 2018. REUTERS/Alan Freed/File Photo

FILE PHOTO: The facade of the Tree of Life synagogue, where a mass shooting occurred last Saturday, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S., November 3, 2018. REUTERS/Alan Freed/File Photo

MULTIPLE CONGREGATIONS

The Tree of Life synagogue hosted multiple Jewish congregations.

Dor Hadash, one of the congregations that was attacked and whose name means New Generation in English, expressed disappointment in the decision to seek the death penalty.

Instead, attorneys for Bowers and federal prosecutors should have reached a plea agreement that would see him receive a life prison sentence, Dor Hadash said in a statement.

“It would have prevented the attacker from getting the attention and publicity that will inevitably come with a trial, and eliminated any possibility of further trauma that could result from a trial and protracted appeals,” it said.

Separately, a spokesman for Tree of Life said in an email the congregation “does not have a statement on this matter; we have confidence that justice will be served.”

Among those killed were a 97-year-old woman and a married couple in their 80s. Two civilians and five police officers were wounded before the gunman, who was armed with an assault-style rifle and three handguns, was shot by police at the synagogue and surrendered. He has been held in jail since then.

The mass shooting followed a rise in the number of hate crimes and the number of hate groups in the United States, according to separate reports from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Southern Poverty Law Center.

(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

Prosecutors charge Texas shooting suspect with murder, seek death penalty

People pray during a vigil a day after a mass shooting at a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas, U.S. August 4, 2019. REUTERS/Callaghan O'Hare

By Julio-Cesar Chavez

EL PASO, Texas (Reuters) – A single capital murder charge was filed on Sunday against the man accused of killing 20 people and wounding more than two dozen others at a Walmart store in El Paso, mass shooting authorities are viewing as a case of domestic terrorism.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott said Saturday’s rampage in the heavily Hispanic city appeared to be a hate crime. Police cited an anti-immigrant screed posted online shortly before the shooting, which they attributed to the suspect, Patrick Crusius, as evidence that the bloodshed was racially motivated.

It was the second of three separate public shooting sprees carried out in the United States in the span of a week, an unusually dense cluster of massacres that prompted fresh alarm in a country accustomed to reports of young men shooting down strangers.

The County of El Paso’s state court website lists a single charge of capital murder against Crusius, a 21-year-old white man from Allen, Texas.

His grandparents, with whom Crusius had recently been living, said they were devastated by the attack.

“He lived with us in our house in Allen, Texas, while he attended Collin College,” the statement said, read aloud by a family friend to reporters outside the home on Sunday. “He moved out of our house six weeks ago, and has spent a few nights here while we were out of town.”

The single charge is likely a legal place holder to keep Crusius in custody until further charges can be filed against him for each of the dead and the wounded.

It was unclear if Crusius has a lawyer or when a bond hearing or other court appearances will occur.

A state prosecutor said prosecutors will seek the death penalty against Crusius if he is found guilty.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation said in a statement on Sunday the attack “underscores the continued threat posed by domestic violent extremists and perpetrators of hate crimes.”

The agency said it remains concerned that more U.S.-based extremists could become inspired by these and previous high-profile attacks to engage in similar acts of violence.

The U.S. attorney for the western district of Texas, John Bash, said federal authorities were treating the El Paso massacre as a case of domestic terrorism.

“And we’re going to do what we do to terrorists in this country, which is to deliver swift and certain justice,” he told a news conference on Sunday. He said the attack appeared “to be designed to intimidate a civilian population, to say the least.”

FBI Director Christopher Wray told a congressional panel on July 23 that the bureau has recorded about 100 arrests of domestic terrorism suspects in the preceding nine months and that most investigations of that kind involve some form of white supremacy.

BACK-TO-BACK SHOOTINGS

The Texas rampage was followed just 13 hours later by another mass shooting, and came a week after a man shot dead three people at a California garlic festival before he was killed by police.

In Dayton, Ohio a gunman in body armor and a mask killed nine people in less than a minute and wounded 27 others in the city’s downtown historic district before he was shot dead by police.

Democratic candidates for next year’s presidential election called on Sunday for stricter gun laws and accused President Donald Trump of stoking racial tensions.

Trump has frequently derided many asylum seekers and other immigrants coming across the U.S. southern border as liars and criminals. At a political rally he held in May, after asking the crowd what could be done about immigrants coming in illegally, Trump smiled and joked after someone in the crowd yelled back: “Shoot them!”

Responding to the shootings, Trump called on lawmakers to pass new background checks laws for buying guns, and suggested any such legislation might also include greater restrictions on immigration.

“We must have something good, if not GREAT, come out of these two tragic events!” he wrote on Twitter on Monday morning ahead of planned remarks on the subject. On Sunday, he attributed the shootings to what he called the “mental illness” of the killers.

SIGNS OF HATE

El Paso Police Chief Greg Allen said the suspect was cooperating with investigators.

“He basically didn’t hold anything back,” Allen said at Sunday’s news conference but declined to elaborate.

Police said the suspect opened fire with a rifle on shoppers, many of them bargain-hunting for back-to-school supplies, then surrendered to officers who confronted him outside the store.

A police spokesman said on Sunday that the names of the victims would be released only when relatives had been informed, and he said he had no estimate for how long that would take.

Crusius comes from Allen, Texas, a Dallas suburb some 650 miles (1,046 km) east of El Paso, which lies along the Rio Grande across the U.S.-Mexico border from Ciudad Juarez.

A four-page statement posted on 8chan, an online message board often used by extremists, and believed to have been written by the suspect, called the Walmart attack “a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas.”

It also expressed for support for the gunman who killed 51 people at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, in March.

El Paso and Ciudad Juarez, together with the neighboring city of Las Cruces, New Mexico, form a metropolitan border area of some 2.5 million residents constituting the largest bilingual, bi-national population in North America.

The rampage in El Paso on Saturday was the eighth most deadly mass shooting in recent years in the United States.

(Reporting by Julio-Cesar Chavez in El Paso; Additional reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis and Steve Gorman in Los Angeles, Jonathan Allen in New York, Keith Coffman in Denver, Tim Reid in Las Vegas, Mark Hosenball in London, Daina Beth Solomon in Mexico City, Daniel Trotta in New York and Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Frances Kerry and Nick Zieminski)

U.S. Justice Department resumes use of the death penalty, schedules five executions

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Attorney General William Barr at the "2019 Prison Reform Summit" in the East Room of the White House in Washington, U.S., April 1, 2019. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

By Sarah N. Lynch

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Justice Department announced on Thursday it was reinstating a two-decades long-dormant policy to resume the federal government’s use of capital punishment and immediately scheduled the executions for five death row federal inmates.

“Congress has expressly authorized the death penalty through legislation adopted by the people’s representatives in both houses of Congress and signed by the President,” Attorney General William Barr said in a statement.”

“The Justice Department upholds the rule of law – and we owe it to the victims and their families to carry forward the sentence imposed by our justice system.”

U.S. President Donald Trump has called for increasing use of the death penalty for drug traffickers and mass shooters.

The Justice Department said it has scheduled executions for five federal inmates who have been convicted of horrific murders and sex crimes.

Those inmates include Daniel Lewis Lee, a white supremacist who was convicted in Arkansas for murdering a family of three, including an eight-year-old girl.

Another one of the five is Lezmond Mitchell, who was found guilty by a jury in Arizona of stabbing a 63-year-old grandmother and forcing her young granddaughter to sit next to her lifeless body on a car journey before slitting the girl’s throat.

“Each of these inmates has exhausted their appellate and post-conviction remedies,” the department said, adding that all five executions will take place at the U.S. Penitentiary Terre Haute in Indiana.

(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Sonya Hepinstall)

U.S. prosecutors weigh death penalty for accused Pittsburgh synagogue shooter

Police vehicles are deployed near the vicinity of the home of Pittsburgh synagogue shooting suspect Robert Bowers' home in Baldwin borough, suburb of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S., October 27, 2018. REUTERS/John Altdorfer


(Reuters) – The case of Robert Bowers, the man accused of massacring 11 people at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue last year was set to return to a federal courtroom on Thursday, as prosecutors weigh whether to pursue the death penalty against him.

Bowers, 46, is accused of bursting into the synagogue on Oct. 27 with a semi-automatic rifle and three handguns and shouting “all Jews must die” as he fired on congregants gathered for a Sabbath service.

Bowers has pleaded not guilty in U.S. District Court in Pittsburgh to a 63-count indictment. Some of the charges, including murder as a hate crime, can carry the death penalty.

At Thursday’s hearing, prosecutors may discuss whether they will seek the death penalty. The session is a routine hearing to review the status of the case.

The United States is seeing a rise in the number of hate crimes and the number of hate groups, according to separate reports from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Southern Poverty Law Center.

One of Bowers’ attorneys, death penalty specialist Judith Clarke, said at his last hearing that the defense hoped to settle without trial. A negotiated plea deal could allow Bowers to avoid facing the risk of execution.

It was not clear whether Bowers would be present at the hearing.

Prosecutors say Bowers frequently posted anti-Semitic comments on right-wing social-media websites, including a post on the morning of the shooting in which he decried the work of a U.S. Jewish charity, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society.

Among those killed in the attack were a 97-year-old woman, two brothers in their 50s and a married couple in their 80s. Two civilians and five police officers were wounded before the gunman was shot by police and surrendered.

Ahead of Thursday’s hearing, Bowers filed a motion to the court through his lawyers, which Judge Donetta Ambrose allowed to be sealed from public view per Bowers’ request.

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York; Editing by Scott Malone and Cynthia Osterman)

Death penalty tensions flare again on divided U.S. Supreme Court

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas talks in his chambers at the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, U.S. June 6, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo

By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court’s internal divisions over the death penalty were on full display again on Monday in fresh wrangling over how the justices handled recent attempts by two convicted murders in Alabama and Texas to put off their executions.

In both cases, there are signs that tensions over the death penalty – especially skepticism by the court’s conservative majority over last-minute bids by death row inmates to block executions – are coming to a boil after simmering for years.

In the Alabama case, Justice Clarence Thomas, one of the nine-member court’s five conservatives, wrote a 14-page opinion defending its middle-of-the-night April 12 decision to pave the way for the execution of Christopher Price, 46. The court’s order was released too late for Price’s scheduled execution to be carried out, and he remains on death row.

Minutes later, the court issued a new opinion by conservative Justice Samuel Alito criticizing its March 28 decision to issue a stay of execution for Texas inmate Patrick Murphy after the state had blocked a Buddhist spiritual adviser from accompanying him to the execution chamber.

Thomas, whose opinion was joined by Alito and fellow conservative Justice Neil Gorsuch, took aim at liberal Justice Stephen Breyer, a frequent critic of the death penalty. Breyer wrote a dissenting opinion from the Price decision that was joined by the court’s three other liberals.

Price had a weak legal argument, Thomas wrote, meaning “it is difficult to see his litigation strategy as anything other than an attempt to delay his execution. Yet four members of the court would have countenanced his tactics without a shred of legal support.”

Breyer is the most vocal critic of the death penalty on the Supreme Court, questioning the constitutionality of capital punishment and arguing that it is imposed arbitrarily and differently in various parts of the country.

In the April vote, the court reversed two lower court decisions that delayed Price’s execution so he could proceed with his request to be executed by lethal gas instead of lethal injection. The Thomas opinion on Monday was issued as the court rejected Price’s underlying appeal.

Price was convicted and sentenced to death in 1993 in the 1991 killing of William Lynn, a minister, in his home in Bazemore, Alabama.

In the Texas case, Alito said Murphy waited too long to bring his claim and that the court’s action to delay his execution would encourage others to bring similar last-ditch actions. Murphy, a Buddhist, had argued his religious rights under the Constitution were violated by the state.

‘NO GOOD REASON’

“This court receives an application to stay virtually every execution; these applications are almost all filed on or shortly after the scheduled execution date; and in the great majority of cases, no good reason for the late filing is apparent,” Alito wrote.

Alito said Murphy’s religious claim might have merit, but prisoners must file such lawsuits “well before their scheduled executions.”

Texas has already changed its policy, which previously allowed only Christians and Muslims to be accompanied by their religious advisers. Now, no religious advisers are allowed in the execution chamber.

Murphy was serving a 50-year sentence for aggravated sexual assault when he and six other inmates broke out of prison in 2000 and went on a rampage in which a police officer was killed.

A month before the Supreme Court’s Murphy decision, the justices voted 5-4 to allow an execution in Alabama to proceed and denied a request by the condemned inmate, a Muslim, for an imam’s presence in the execution chamber. Alito voted to deny both requests.

Gorsuch also complained about last-minute execution challenges when the court ruled on April 1 against Missouri death row inmate Russell Bucklew, who had sought to die by lethal gas rather than lethal injection because of a rare medical condition. Gorsuch said the Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment “does not guarantee a prisoner a painless death.”

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham)

Bitter divisions on death penalty in U.S. top court exposed in Alabama showdown

Death row inmate Christopher Price is seen in this undated Alabama Department of Corrections photo obtained from Montgomery, Alabama, U.S., on April 10, 2019. Courtesy Alabama Department of Corrections/Handout via REUTERS

By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court exposed its bitter divisions over the death penalty yet again early Friday as the justices voted on ideological lines to reject an Alabama inmate’s bid to delay his execution.

On a 5-4 vote with the court’s conservatives in the majority, the court reversed two lower court decisions that delayed the execution of Christopher Price, 46, for 60 days so he could proceed with his request to be executed by lethal gas instead of lethal injection.

It was the third time in recent weeks the court has divided 5-4 on a death penalty case, with the conservatives in the majority each time.

The court’s order was released too late for the execution to take place, so Alabama will have to set a new execution date. State officials did not immediately respond to questions about their plans on Friday.

The court said in its order that Price had waited too long to pursue his claim.

Justice Stephen Breyer, one of the liberal justices, called the litigation an example of arbitrary administration of the death penalty. He wrote that Price’s claim failed because of a “minor oversight” by his lawyer when filing evidence to support his argument.

“To proceed in this way calls into question the basic principles of fairness that should underlie our criminal justice system,” Breyer wrote.

He also noted that the justices were due to meet Friday morning and could have discussed the issue then instead of acting in the middle of the night. The three other liberal justices on the nine-justice court joined Breyer’s opinion.

Price was convicted and sentenced to death in 1993 for killing William Lynn, a minister, in his home in Bazemore, Alabama, on Dec. 22, 1991, as he assembled Christmas presents with his wife.

On Thursday, Chief U.S. District Judge Kristi DuBose granted Price’s attorneys the 60-day stay and gave the state until May 10 to respond to their arguments that the three-drug protocol risked causing Price significant pain and that nitrogen hypoxia would reduce that risk.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that the Constitution did not guarantee a condemned prisoner “a painless death,” paving the way for the execution of convicted murderer Russell Bucklew, who sought to die by lethal gas rather than lethal injection because of a rare medical condition.

In that majority opinion, conservative Justice Neil Gorsuch took aim at the tactics of death penalty defense lawyers who frequently file last-minute applications to delay executions.

The court in February voted 5-4 to allow the execution of a Muslim convicted murderer after Alabama denied his request to have an imam present, saying he waited too long to file his lawsuit.

In March, however, the court blocked the execution of a convicted murderer whose request to have his Buddhist spiritual adviser present at the execution was denied by Texas..

Six executions in the United States scheduled during the first three months of 2019 have been stayed or rescheduled.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Scott Malone and Steve Orlofsky)

California prosecutors to seek death penalty in ‘Golden State Killer’ murders

FILE PHOTO - Joseph James DeAngelo, 72, who authorities said was identified by DNA evidence as the serial predator dubbed the Golden State Killer, appears at his arraignment in California Superior court in Sacramento, California, U.S., April 27, 2018. REUTERS/Fred Greaves

By Steve Gorman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Four California district attorneys have jointly agreed to seek the death penalty if they win a conviction of an ex-policeman charged with 13 counts of murder attributed to a serial predator dubbed the “Golden State Killer,” prosecutors said on Wednesday.

The decision, disclosed during a court hearing for the suspect, Joseph James DeAngelo, 73, put the prosecutors at odds with a statewide moratorium on capital punishment declared last month by Governor Gavin Newsom.

DeAngelo was arrested in April 2018, capping more than 40 years of investigation in a case that authorities said was finally solved by DNA evidence. The breakthrough came about two months after the case gained renewed national attention in the bestselling book: “I’ll Be Gone in the Dark.”

Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert called it “probably the most notorious” series of rapes and killings in California history, a crime spree spanning 11 years from 1975 to 1986 across multiple jurisdictions.

The defendant was an officer in two small-town California police departments during the 1970s.

Schubert and her counterparts from Santa Barbara, Ventura and Orange counties “unanimously concluded to seek the death penalty in this case,” her office said in a statement after Wednesday’s hearing.

DeAngelo is charged with 13 counts each of murder and kidnapping. Twelve murder counts accompany “special circumstance allegations” – such as rape of the victim – that make him eligible for capital punishment, the prosecutors said. The 13th murder count, in Tulare County, does not.

In all, authorities have said DeAngelo is suspected of dozens of rapes and more than 120 burglaries in and around Sacramento, the eastern San Francisco Bay area and Southern California.

Four weeks ago, Newsom, a Democrat, said he was imposing an indefinite moratorium on executions for any of the 737 inmates now on death row, the most of any state.

Newsom said he took the action in part because he was deeply troubled by the possibility of putting an innocent person to death as the state moved to toward resumption of executions after developing a new protocol for lethal injections.

The governor, whose moratorium angered victims’ rights advocates, has since said he was considering a ban on future death sentences. California last carried out an execution in 2006.

Voters passed a 2016 ballot measure aimed at speeding up the process, but that initiative has failed to work, critics say, largely because it lacked additional funding needed to implement necessary reforms.

(Reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Peter Cooney)

‘I can’t breathe’: Saudi journalist Khashoggi’s last words – CNN

FILE PHOTO: Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi speaks at an event hosted by Middle East Monitor in London, Britain, Sept. 29, 2018. Picture taken September 29, 2018. Middle East Monitor/Handout via REUTERS

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Journalist Jamal Khashoggi repeatedly told his killers “I can’t breathe” during his final moments in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, CNN reported on Monday.

Quoting a source who said they had read the full translated transcript of an audio recording, CNN said that Khashoggi recognized one of the men, General Maher Mutreb, who told him: “You are coming back”.

Khashoggi replied: “You can’t do that…people are waiting outside.”

His Turkish fiancee Hatice Cengiz waited for hours outside the consulate on Oct. 2 and, when he did not return, contacted Turkish authorities about his disappearance.

There was no further dialogue in the relatively short transcript, prepared by Turkish authorities, CNN’s source said.

As people set upon Khashoggi, he started fighting for air, repeating, “I can’t breathe” at least three times. The transcript then used singular words to describe the noises, including “scream”, “gasping”, “saw”, and “cutting”.

Turkish sources told Reuters a bone saw was used to dismember the journalist.

The transcript included no further mention of returning Khashoggi to Saudi Arabia and no indication that he had been drugged – as Saudi Arabia’s public prosecutor said in November.

One of the voices was identified in the transcript by Turkish authorities as Dr. Salah al-Tubaigy, a forensic expert specialized in autopsies attached to the Saudi Ministry of Interior, CNN reported.

Tubaigy tells others to put in earphones or listen to music like him, the CNN source said.

Mutreb, a senior intelligence officer who is part of the security team of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, called officials and gave step-by-step details of the operation, CNN reported, finally saying: “Tell yours, the thing is done, it’s done”.

Turkish officials said last week that the Istanbul prosecutor’s office had concluded there was “strong suspicion” that Saud al-Qahtani, a top aide to Prince Mohammed, and General Ahmed al-Asiri, who served as deputy head of foreign intelligence, were among the planners of Khashoggi’s killing.

Saudi Arabia has said the prince had no prior knowledge of the murder. After offering numerous contradictory explanations, Riyadh later said Khashoggi had been killed and his body dismembered when negotiations to persuade him to return to Saudi Arabia failed.

The kingdom has come under scrutiny as details of his killing came to light. Making some of their strongest accusations so far, both U.S. Republicans and Democrats said last week they want to pass legislation to send a message to Saudi Arabia that the United States condemns the death of Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist.

A Turkish official said that by extraditing all suspects to Turkey, the Saudi authorities can address the international community’s concerns.

Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir on Sunday ruled out their extradition. “We don’t extradite our citizens,” he said at a Gulf Arab summit in Riyadh.

Last month, Saudi Arabia’s public prosecutor’s office said is seeking the death penalty for five individuals, and that 11 of 21 suspects have been indicted and will be referred to court in Saudi Arabia.

(Reporting by Sarah Dadouch; Editing by Dominic Evans and Angus MacSwan)

Loved ones mourn Khashoggi after Riyadh seeks to execute five suspects

People attend a symbolic funeral prayer for Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the courtyard of Fatih mosque in Istanbul, Turkey November 16, 2018. REUTERS/Huseyin Aldemir

By Stephen Kalin and Sarah Dadouch

JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia/ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Family and friends of Jamal Khashoggi said funeral prayers in Saudi Arabia and Turkey on Friday for the Saudi journalist killed by agents of his own government, in a case that has sparked a global outcry and mired the kingdom in crisis.

The Saudi public prosecutor said on Thursday it would seek the death penalty for five suspects in the murder inside the country’s Istanbul consulate on Oct. 2. They did not provide names but at least two are senior officials closely associated with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

People holding pictures of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi attend a symbolic funeral prayer for Khashoggi at the courtyard of Fatih mosque in Istanbul, Turkey November 16, 2018. REUTERS/Huseyin Aldemir

People holding pictures of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi attend a symbolic funeral prayer for Khashoggi at the courtyard of Fatih mosque in Istanbul, Turkey November 16, 2018. REUTERS/Huseyin Aldemir

In an unusual measure against an important security and economic partner, the U.S. Treasury imposed economic sanctions on 17 Saudis, including Saud al-Qahtani, the crown prince’s former top adviser.

Riyadh maintains that Prince Mohammed had nothing to do with the murder, even as Turkey and some Western allies, including U.S. President Donald Trump, have said ultimate responsibility lies with him as the country’s de facto ruler. Changing Saudi accounts of the murder, including initial denials, have been met with skepticism abroad.

Tens of thousands of worshippers at Mecca’s Grand Mosque and the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina, Khashoggi’s hometown, joined in prayers for the deceased, though the imams did not name him.

In Istanbul, mourners raised their hands in prayer outside Fatih Mosque. An imam recited Koranic verses under a tent set up to protect against the rain, and Khashoggi’s friends eulogized him.

“What we heard yesterday from the Saudi public prosecutor is not the justice we were expecting or waiting for, but represents injustice itself,” said Ayman Nour, a liberal Egyptian politician.

An adviser to Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan called for Prince Mohammed to distance himself from the legal proceedings.

“There is no chance to have a court proceeding that is independent from the crown prince in Saudi Arabia,” said Yasin Aktay.

For weeks, Khashoggi’s family has urged Saudi and Turkish authorities to find his remains and hand them over for burial, but the Saudi prosecutor said their whereabouts are unknown.

Islamic tradition places immense importance on the proper handling of the dead, mandating quick burial. The revelation that the body was dismembered has thus been particularly disturbing.

The decision to hold prayer services in the absence of a body suggests the family does not expect it to be recovered.

Khashoggi’s son, Salah, met the king and crown prince in Riyadh last month to receive condolences along with other relatives. He then departed for Washington after a travel ban was lifted and told CNN on Nov. 5 that he wanted to bury his father in Medina with the rest of the family.

“We just need to make sure that he rests in peace,” Salah said. “Until now, I still can’t believe that he’s dead. It’s not sinking in with me emotionally.”

NEW LIFE

Khashoggi’s fiancée, Hatice Cengiz, a Turkish researcher who had waited outside the Istanbul consulate for hours on the day he was killed and alerted the authorities and the media when he never left the building, called last week for Muslims around the world to perform the funeral prayer for him.

On Thursday, she tweeted a selfie of Khashoggi outside the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina mosque, writing: “Dear Jamal.. rest in peace. We will meet in heaven inshallah (God willing)..!”

Cengiz and Khashoggi met at a conference in Istanbul in May and soon decided to wed. He had entered the consulate that day to obtain documents proving an earlier marriage had ended.

The pair purchased an apartment in Istanbul and Khashoggi was planning to live between there and Washington, where he moved 18 months earlier fearing reprisals for his views. He obtained U.S. residency and wrote for the Washington Post, becoming familiar to many American policymakers.

“I have left my home, my family and my job, and I am raising my voice. To do otherwise would betray those who languish in prison,” he wrote in Sept. 2017, referring to intellectuals, activists and clerics arrested under Prince Mohammed.

His murder has provoked the biggest political crisis in a generation for Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil exporter and a supporter of Washington’s plans to contain Iranian influence across the Middle East.

It has also tarnished the image of Prince Mohammed, who has pushed social and economic reforms while cracking down on dissent, upending the delicate balance inside the ruling family, and leading the country into messy conflicts in Yemen and Qatar.

(Additional Reporting by Ezgi Erkoyun, writing by Stephen Kalin, Editing by William Maclean)

Saudi Arabia seeks death penalty in Khashoggi murder case

FILE PHOTO: A demonstrator wearing a mask of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attends a protest outside the Saudi Arabia consulate in Istanbul, Turkey October 25, 2018. REUTERS/Osman Orsal//File Photo

By Stephen Kalin

RIYADH (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia’s public prosecutor is seeking the death penalty for five out of 11 suspects charged in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, his office said on Thursday, as the kingdom tries to overcome its biggest political crisis in a generation.

Khashoggi, a royal insider turned critic of Saudi policy, was killed in the country’s Istanbul consulate on Oct. 2, after a struggle, by a lethal injection dose, deputy public prosecutor and spokesman Shalaan al-Shalaan told reporters.

His body was dismembered, removed from the building and handed over to a “local cooperator”, whose identity has not been confirmed, he added. The whereabouts of Khashoggi’s remains are unknown.

Shalaan said the Washington Post columnist was murdered after “negotiations” for his return to the kingdom failed and that the killing was ordered by the head of a negotiating team sent to repatriate Khashoggi after he decided it was unfeasible to remove him from the consulate.

Shalaan said the order to repatriate Khashoggi had come from former deputy intelligence chief General Ahmed al-Asiri, who was sacked last month following an initial investigation.

Asked if Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman played a role in the murder, he said: “He did not have any knowledge.”

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has said the order for the operation came from the highest level of Saudi leadership but probably not King Salman, putting the spotlight instead on his 33-year-old heir Prince Mohammed.

U.S. President Donald Trump has suggested ultimate responsibility lies with the prince as de facto ruler.

Riyadh initially denied any knowledge of Khashoggi’s disappearance, then offered contradictory explanations including that he was killed in a rogue operation. The case has sparked a global outcry, opened the kingdom to possible sanctions and tarnished the image of Prince Mohammed.

Some details provided on Thursday again contradicted previous versions, none of which mentioned a drug-induced death and one of which called the killing premeditated based on information provided by Turkish authorities.

FILE PHOTO: A demonstrator holds a poster with a picture of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi outside the Saudi Arabia consulate in Istanbul, Turkey October 25, 2018. REUTERS/Osman Orsal/File Photo

FILE PHOTO: A demonstrator holds a poster with a picture of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi outside the Saudi Arabia consulate in Istanbul, Turkey October 25, 2018. REUTERS/Osman Orsal/File Photo

DEATH PENALTY

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said that the measures announced by the Saudi public prosecutor’s office were “positive but insufficient”, and repeated Ankara’s demand that the 15-man team be tried in Turkey.

“The Public Prosecutor has requested the death penalty for five individuals who are charged with ordering and committing the crime and for the appropriate sentences for the other indicted individuals,” Shalaan said, without naming them.

He said 11 out of 21 suspects have been indicted and will be referred to court, while investigations with the remaining suspects will continue to determine their role in the crime.

A travel ban has been imposed on a former top aide to the crown prince, Saud al-Qahtani, while investigations continue over his role, Shalaan said.

He said Qahtani had coordinated with Asiri, meeting the operatives ahead of their journey to Istanbul to brief them on the journalist’s activities.

Qahtani has already been fired from the royal court, but four sources based in the Gulf told Reuters this week that he was still at liberty and continued to operate discreetly.

A senior government official previously identified the head of the negotiating team as Maher Mutreb, an aide to Qahtani who has appeared in photographs with Prince Mohammed on official visits this year to the United States and Europe.

Six weeks after the murder, Turkey is trying to keep up pressure on Prince Mohammed and has released a stream of evidence that undermined Riyadh’s early denials of involvement.

Turkey says it has recordings related to the killing which it has shared with Western allies. Erdogan said the recordings are “appalling” and shocked a Saudi intelligence officer who listened to them, Turkish media has reported.

Last month two intelligence sources said that Qahtani gave orders over Skype to Khashoggi’s killers. More recently, a government source familiar with the matter said Qahtani featured prominently throughout the recordings.

Shalaan declined to confirm or deny whether Saudi authorities heard the recordings. He said Riyadh asked Ankara to share witness testimonies and hand over Khashoggi’s phones.

(Additional reporting by Maha El Dahan and Asma Al Sharif in Dubai; Writing by Tuqa Khalid and Ghaida Ghantous; Editing by Gareth Jones, William Maclean)