Exclusive: After Khashoggi murder, some Saudi royals turn against king’s favorite son

Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud arrives to address the Shura Council in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia November 19, 2018. Bandar Algaloud/Courtesy of Saudi Royal Court/Handout via REUTERS

LONDON (Reuters) – Amid international uproar over the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, some members of Saudi Arabia’s ruling family are agitating to prevent Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman from becoming king, three sources close to the royal court said.

Dozens of princes and cousins from powerful branches of the Al Saud family want to see a change in the line of succession but would not act while King Salman – the crown prince’s 82-year-old father – is still alive, the sources said. They recognize that the king is unlikely to turn against his favorite son, known in the West as MbS.

Rather, they are discussing the possibility with other family members that after the king’s death, Prince Ahmed bin Abdulaziz, 76, a younger full brother of King Salman and uncle of the crown prince, could take the throne, according to the sources.

Prince Ahmed, King Salman’s only surviving full brother, would have the support of family members, the security apparatus and some Western powers, one of the Saudi sources said.

Prince Ahmed returned to Riyadh in October after 2-1/2 months abroad. During the trip, he appeared to criticize the Saudi leadership while responding to protesters outside a London residence chanting for the downfall of the Al Saud dynasty. He was one of only three people on the Allegiance Council, made up of the ruling family’s senior members, who opposed MbS becoming crown prince in 2017, two Saudi sources said at the time.

Neither Prince Ahmed nor his representatives could be reached for comment. Officials in Riyadh did not immediately respond to requests from Reuters for comment on succession issues.

The House of Saud is made up of hundreds of princes. Unlike typical European monarchies, there is no automatic succession from father to eldest son. Instead the kingdom’s tribal traditions dictate that the king and senior family members from each branch select the heir they consider fittest to lead.

Senior U.S. officials have indicated to Saudi advisers in recent weeks that they would support Prince Ahmed, who was deputy interior minister for nearly 40 years, as a potential successor, according to Saudi sources with direct knowledge of the consultations.

These Saudi sources said they were confident that Prince Ahmed would not change or reverse any of the social or economic reforms enacted by MbS, would honor existing military procurement contracts and would restore the unity of the family.

One senior U.S. official said the White House is in no hurry to distance itself from the crown prince despite pressure from lawmakers and the CIA’s assessment that MbS ordered Khashoggi’s murder, though that could change once Trump gets a definitive report on the killing from the intelligence community.

The official also said the White House saw it as noteworthy that King Salman seemed to stand by his son in a speech in Riyadh on Monday and made no direct reference to Khashoggi’s killing, except to praise the Saudi public prosecutor.

President Donald Trump on Saturday called the CIA assessment that MbS ordered Khashoggi’s killing “very premature” but “possible”, and said he would receive a complete report on the case on Tuesday. A White House official referred Reuters to those comments and had “nothing else to add at this time”.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attends a session of the Shura Council in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia November 19, 2018. Bandar Algaloud/Courtesy of Saudi Royal Court/Handout via REUTERS

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attends a session of the Shura Council in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia November 19, 2018. Bandar Algaloud/Courtesy of Saudi Royal Court/Handout via REUTERS

The Saudi sources said U.S. officials had cooled on MbS not only because of his suspected role in the murder of Khashoggi. They are also rankled because the crown prince recently urged the Saudi defense ministry to explore alternative weapons supplies from Russia, the sources said.

In a letter dated May 15, seen by Reuters, the crown prince requested that the defense ministry “focus on purchasing weapon systems and equipment in the most pressing fields” and get training on them, including the Russian S-400 surface-to-air missile system.

Neither the Russian defense ministry nor officials in Riyadh immediately responded to Reuters requests for comment.

U.S. ROLE KEY

The brutal killing of Khashoggi, a prominent critic of the crown prince, in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last month has drawn global condemnation, including from many politicians and officials in the United States, a key Saudi ally. The CIA believes the crown prince ordered the killing, according to U.S. sources familiar with the assessment.

Saudi Arabia’s public prosecutor has said the crown prince knew nothing of the killing.

The international uproar has piled pressure on a royal court already divided over 33-year-old Prince Mohammed’s rapid rise to power. Since his ascension, the prince has gained popular support with high-profile social and economic reforms including ending a ban on women driving and opening cinemas in the conservative kingdom.

His reforms have been accompanied by a crackdown on dissent, a purge of top royals and businessmen on corruption charges, and a costly war in Yemen.

He has also marginalized senior members of the royal family and consolidated control over Saudi’s security and intelligence agencies.

He first ousted then-powerful crown prince and interior minister Mohammed bin Nayef (MbN), 59, in June 2017. Then he removed Prince Miteb bin Abdullah, 65, son of the late King Abdullah, as head of the National Guard and detained him as part of an anti-corruption campaign.

Some 30 other princes were also arrested, mistreated, humiliated and stripped of their wealth, even as MbS splashed out on palaces, a $500 million yacht, and set a new record in the international art market with the purchase of a painting by Italian Renaissance engineer and painter Leonardo Da Vinci.

The entire House of Saud has emerged weakened as a result.

According to one well-placed Saudi source, many princes from senior circles in the family believe a change in the line of succession “would not provoke any resistance from the security or intelligence bodies he controls” because of their loyalty to the wider family.

“They (the security apparatus) will follow any consensus reached by the family.”

Officials in Riyadh did not respond to a request for comment.

The United States, a key ally in economic and security terms, is likely to be a determining factor in how matters unfold in Saudi Arabia, the Saudi sources and diplomats say.

Trump and his son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner have cultivated deep personal relationships with the crown prince. One Saudi insider said MbS feels he still has their support and is willing to “roll some heads to appease the U.S.”

But Trump and top administration officials have said Saudi officials should be held to account for any involvement in Khashoggi’s death and have imposed sanctions on 17 Saudis for their alleged role – including one of MbS’s closest aides.

U.S. lawmakers are meanwhile pushing legislation to punish Riyadh for the killing, and both Republican and Democratic senators have urged Trump to get tough on the crown prince.

King Salman, 82, is aware of the consequences of a major clash with the United States and the possibility that Congress could try to freeze Saudi assets.

Those who have met the king recently say he appeared to be in denial about the role of MbS in what happened, believing there to be a conspiracy against the kingdom. But they added that he looked burdened and worried.

ALLEGIANCE COUNCIL

When the king dies or is no longer be able to rule, the 34-member Allegiance Council, a body representing each line of the ruling family to lend legitimacy to succession decisions, would not automatically declare MbS the new king.

Even as crown prince, MbS would still need the council to ratify his ascension, one of the three Saudi sources said. While the council accepted King Salman’s wish to make MbS crown prince, it would not necessarily accept MbS becoming king when his father dies, especially given that he sought to marginalize council members.

Officials in Riyadh did not respond to a request for comment.

The Saudi sources say MbS has destroyed the institutional pillars of nearly a century of Al Saud rule: the family, the clerics, the tribes and the merchant families. They say this is seen inside the family as destabilizing.

Despite the controversy over Khashoggi’s killing, MbS is continuing to pursue his agenda.

Some insiders believe he built his father a new but remote Red Sea palace in Sharma, at the Neom City development site — thrown up in a record one year at a cost of $2 billion — as a gilded cage for his retirement.

The site is isolated, the closest city of Tabouk more than 100 km (60 miles) away. Residence there would keep the king out of the loop on most affairs of state, one of the sources close to the royal family said.

Officials in Riyadh did not respond to a request for comment.

(Reporting by Reuters correspondents; Editing by Nick Tattersall)

Berlin imposes entry ban, arms freeze over Khashoggi killing

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

BERLIN (Reuters) – Germany banned Saudi citizens suspected of involvement in the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi from much of Europe on Monday and moved to halt all arms sales to the kingdom in a firming of its stance towards Riyadh.

The entry bans, targeting 18 Saudis suspected of playing a role in the killing of Khashoggi in Riyadh’s Istanbul consulate, bind all members of the European Union’s passport-free Schengen zone, suggesting that Germany is willing to use its influence as the EU’s largest country to push for a tougher line.

“We have coordinated closely with our French and British friends and decided, as Germany, to put an entry ban beside their names in the Schengen system database,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Christofer Burger told a regular news conference.

A spokesman later added that the government would further cut down on arms exports by pressuring arms manufacturers with valid export licenses to stop shipments that had already been authorized.

The moves represent a sharpening of the position of Germany, which last month imposed a ban on the issuing of future export weapons export licenses to Saudi Arabia until the circumstances of Khashoggi’s killing have been fully cleared up.

Any member of the 26-country Schengen area can unilaterally impose a binding entry ban on anyone it deems a security risk, although it unusual for a country to impose such a large number of bans at once in such a politically sensitive case.

Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told reporters in Brussels the decision was closely coordinated with France, which is part of the Schengen zone, and Britain, which is not. He said EU states expressed “great support” for the decision when he briefed them in Brussels on Monday.

“We also had a joint statement on the issue this weekend, which indicates we are not satisfied with the results of the investigation thus far … and that we retain the right to take further steps,” he said.

Burger said the members of the 15-strong squad accused of carrying out the killing of the critic of Saudi policy, and a further three who are suspected of organizing it, had been given entry bans. He declined to name the individuals.

Asked if Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, seen by U.S. intelligence as having ordered the killing, was among their number, Burger declined to comment.

Saudi prosecutors said last week that the crown prince, Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, knew nothing of the operation, in which Khashoggi’s body was dismembered, removed from the building and handed over to an unidentified “local cooperator”.

An Interior Ministry spokeswoman said the ban would apply even if any of those sanctioned held diplomatic passports, which normally offer immunity to members of the Saudi royal family and key diplomats.

(Reporting by Thomas Escritt, Riham Alkousaa and Andrea Shalal, Editing by Michelle Martin and Alison Williams, William Maclean)

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)

Turkey’s Erdogan says Khashoggi recordings ‘appalling’, shocked Saudi intelligence

FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan addresses members of parliament from his AK Party (AKP) in Ankara, Turkey, October 23, 2018. REUTERS/Tumay Berkin/File Photo

By Daren Butler

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – President Tayyip Erdogan said recordings related to the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, which Turkey has shared with Western allies, are “appalling” and shocked a Saudi intelligence officer who listened to them, Turkish media reported on Tuesday.

Khashoggi, a critic of de facto Saudi ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was killed in Saudi Arabia’s Istanbul consulate on Oct. 2 in a hit which Erdogan says was ordered at the “highest levels” of the Saudi government.

Six weeks after Khashoggi’s death, 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.

Prine Mohammed won support on Tuesday from U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton, who said he did not think recordings of the killing shared by Turkey implicated the young crown prince.

Erdogan told reporters on his plane returning from a weekend visit to France that he discussed the Saudi journalist’s killing with the U.S., French and German leaders there, adding that Turkey had played the recording to at least six countries.

“The recordings are really appalling. Indeed when the Saudi intelligence officer listened to the recordings he was so shocked he said: ‘This one must have taken heroin, only someone who takes heroin would do this’,” he added.

Khashoggi’s murder has provoked global outrage but little concrete action by major powers against Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil exporter and a strong proponent of U.S. policy to contain Iranian influence across the Middle East.

President Donald Trump has expressed reluctance to punish Saudi Arabia economically, citing its multi-billion-dollar purchases of military equipment and investments in U.S. firms.

Bolton said he did not think that people who heard the recordings concluded that the crown prince was linked to the killing. “And certainly that is not the position of the Saudi government,” he said in Singapore.

Asked again if the audio tape provided by Turkey did not link Prince Mohammed to the killing in any way, Bolton said: “I haven’t listened to the tape myself but in the assessment of those who have listened to it, that is right.”

Bolton shares with Saudi Arabia a hawkish stance against Riyadh’s biggest Middle East rival Iran, and he championed Washington’s resumption of sanctions on the Islamic Republic.

ELECTRIC SHOCK DEVICES

The New York Times, in a report confirmed by a Turkish official, said a member of the Saudi team which was sent to Istanbul to kill Khashoggi told one of his superiors after the killing to “tell your boss” – which the newspaper said was believed to be a reference to Prince Mohammed.

The individual was identified as Maher Mutreb, who reports to an aide to the crown prince, Saud al-Qahtani. Mutreb was also quoted as saying words to the effect that “the deed was done”.

In his comments to reporters, Erdogan said it was clear the killing was planned and that the order came from the top level of Saudi authorities, but that he could not think such a thing of King Salman, for whom he has “limitless respect”.

“The crown prince says ‘I will clarify the matter, I will do what is necessary’. We are waiting patiently,” Erdogan said, adding that the perpetrators of the killing were among 18 suspects detained in Saudi Arabia.

“It must be revealed who gave them the order to murder.”

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

Saudi state media said King Salman sacked him and other officials over the killing, and a senior Saudi official said last month that Qahtani had been detained. But four sources based in the Gulf told Reuters this week that he was still at liberty and continued to operate discreetly.

“He still has the same influence,” one of the sources said. Qahtani has wielded that influence over the last three years, with his authority growing alongside that of the young prince.

He ran social media for Prince Mohammed, masterminded the arrest of hundreds of Saudi Arabia’s elite late last year in a campaign Riyadh said aimed at rooting out corruption, and took a harsh line against neighboring Qatar when Saudi Arabia imposed an economic boycott of the Gulf state in June 2017.

He also supervised the brief detention, humiliation and beating of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri last year.

Turkey’s pro-government newspaper Sabah reported on Tuesday that the luggage of the Saudi team that was sent to Istanbul at the time of Khashoggi’s killing contained syringes, large scissors, staple guns, walkie-talkies, electric shock devices and a signal jammer.

It published photos of X-rays of bags taken as the Saudis passed through security checks at the airport when they left. Reuters could not immediately verify the Sabah report.

Saudi Arabia initially denied any knowledge or involvement in Khashoggi’s killing, but Saudi public prosecutor Saud al-Mojeb later said it was planned in advance. Another Saudi official said Prince Mohammed had no knowledge of the specific operation.

(Additional reporting by John Geddie in Singapore; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Dominic Evans and Mark Heinrich)

U.S. ratchets up pressure on Iran with resumption of sanctions

FILE PHOTO: Iranian rials, U.S. dollars and Iraqi dinars are seen at a currency exchange shopÊin Basra, Iraq November 3, 2018. REUTERS/Essam al-Sudani

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States reimposes oil and financial sanctions against Iran on Monday, significantly turning up the pressure on Tehran in order to curb its missile and nuclear programs and counter its growing military and political influence in the Middle East.

The move will restore U.S. sanctions that were lifted under a 2015 nuclear deal negotiated by the administration of President Barack Obama, and add 300 new designations in Iran’s oil, shipping, insurance and banking sectors.

President Donald Trump announced in May that his administration was withdrawing from what he called the “worst ever” agreement negotiated by the United States. Other parties to the deal, including Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia, have said they will not leave.

Details of the sanctions will be released at a news conference scheduled for 8:30 a.m. EST (1330 GMT) with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

China, India, South Korea, Japan and Turkey – all top importers of Iranian oil – are among eight countries expected to be given temporary exemptions from the sanctions to ensure crude oil prices are not destabilized.

The countries will deposit Iran’s revenue in an escrow account, U.S. officials have said.

Washington has said it will ensure a well-supplied global oil market, with help from ally Saudi Arabia, as Iran oil is cut back. Front-month Brent crude futures, the international benchmark for oil prices, were at $72.53 per barrel on Monday.

The reimposition of the sanctions comes as the United States is focused on U.S. congressional and gubernatorial elections on Tuesday. Campaigning in Chattanooga, Tennessee, late on Sunday, Trump said his “maximum pressure” policy against Iran was working.

“Iran is a much different country than it was when I took office,” said Trump, adding: “They wanted to take over the whole Middle East. Right now they just want to survive.”

Earlier, thousands of Iranians chanted “Death to America” at a rally to mark the anniversary of the seizure of the U.S. Embassy during the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

The International Monetary Fund said on Thursday that Iran should implement policies to safeguard its macroeconomic stability in the face of sanctions.

Senior Iranian officials have dismissed concerns about the impact to its economy.

“America will not be able to carry out any measure against our great and brave nation … We have the knowledge and the capability to manage the country’s economic affairs,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi told state TV on Friday.

(Reporting by Lesley Wroughton; Additional reporting by Steve Holland in Chattanooga, Tennessee; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)

Saudis sent ‘clean-up’ team to Turkey after Khashoggi killing, official says

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

By Orhan Coskun

ANKARA (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia sent a two-man “clean-up team” to erase evidence of journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s killing a week after he disappeared at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, a Turkish official said on Monday, calling it a sign top Saudi officials knew of the crime.

Confirming a report in Turkey’s pro-government Sabah newspaper, the official said the chemist and toxicologist were tasked with erasing evidence before Turkish investigators were given access to the Saudi consulate and consul’s residence.

Sabah identified the two men as Ahmed Abdulaziz al-Jonabi and Khaled Yahya al-Zahrani, saying they arrived in Turkey as part of an 11-person team sent to carry out the inspections with Turkish officials.

Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist critical of the Saudi government and its de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, disappeared at the consulate on Oct. 2.

Saudi officials initially insisted Khashoggi had left the consulate, then said he died in an unplanned “rogue operation”. The kingdom’s public prosecutor Saud al-Mojeb later said he was killed in a premeditated attack.

Turkish and Saudi officials have carried out joint inspections of the consulate and consul’s residence in Istanbul, but President Tayyip Erdogan says some Saudi officials are still trying to cover up the crime. Ankara has also demanded Riyadh cooperate in finding Khashoggi’s body, which Istanbul’s chief prosecutor said had been dismembered.

A senior Turkish official confirmed the names of the men identified on Monday by Sabah. “We believe that the two individuals came to Turkey for the sole purpose of covering up evidence of Jamal Khashoggi’s murder before the Turkish police were allowed to search the premises,” the official said.

The two individuals carried out clean-up operations at the consulate and the consul’s residence in Istanbul until October 17 and left the country three days later, he said.

“The fact that a clean-up team was dispatched from Saudi Arabia nine days after the murder suggests that Khashoggi’s slaying was within the knowledge of top Saudi officials,” the official said.

Saudi Arabia says 18 people have been detained over Khashoggi’s killing and the head of its human rights commission told a meeting in Geneva on Monday Riyadh was investigating the case with a view to prosecuting the perpetrators.

ACID REPORTS

Saudi Arabia’s conflicting accounts of Khashoggi’s killing have prompted international outcry against the world’s top oil exporter, upending the young crown prince’s international image as a reformer.

Turkey has released a stream of evidence challenging the initial Saudi denials of involvement and continues to press Riyadh for details.

On Monday Vice President Fuat Oktay called for an investigation into newspaper reports last week that Khashoggi’s body was disposed of by dissolving it in acid.

“The question now is who gave the orders. This is what we are seeking answers to now,” Fuat Oktay told Anadolu news agency. “Another question is where the body is… There are reports of (the body) being dissolved with acid now. All of these need to be looked at”.

In an article in the Washington Post on Friday, Erdogan said the order to kill Khashoggi came from the “highest levels” of the Saudi government and called for the “puppetmasters” to be unmasked.

(Reporting by Orhan Coskun and Tuvan Gumrukcu; Writing by Dominic Evans)

Erdogan adviser said Khashoggi’s body was dismembered and dissolved: newspaper

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – An adviser to Turkey’s president has said the team that killed prominent Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul cut up his body in order to dissolve for easier disposal, the newspaper Hurriyet reported on Friday.

Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist critical of the Saudi government and its de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, disappeared after he entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul exactly one month go on Oct. 2.

The Saudi government initially insisted Khashoggi had left the consulate, later saying he died in an unplanned “rogue operation”. Last week, the kingdom’s public prosecutor Saud Al Mojeb said the attack was premeditated.

Istanbul chief prosecutor Irfan Fidan said this week that Khashoggi was suffocated as soon as he entered the consulate, and his body was then cut up and disposed of.

Turkey has demanded that Saudi authorities tell them where the body is.

But Yasin Aktay, who advises President Tayyip Erdogan and was a friend of Khashoggi’s, told Hurriyet newspaper that the corpse was disposed of by dismembering and dissolving it.

“According to the latest information we have, the reason they dismembered his body is to dissolve it easier.”

This was the first time this detail has been mentioned. There was no immediate comment on the report from Turkish officials.

The kingdom has faced a torrent of international condemnation over the murder of Khashoggi, upending the young crown prince’s image as a reformer on the international stage.

U.S. President Donald Trump has said Saudi authorities staged the “worst cover-up ever” but has also made more conciliatory remarks that highlight Riyadh’s role as a U.S. ally against Iran and Islamist militants, as well as a purchaser of U.S. arms.

On Thursday, U.S. State Department deputy spokesman Robert Palladino told reporters Khashoggi’s remains should be located and returned to his family for a burial as soon as possible.

Khashoggi had entered the consulate to get some papers he needed to marry his Turkish fiancee Hatice Cengiz, who waited for him outside for hours before she alerted Turkish authorities.

“No matter how long I waited, the joyful Jamal did not return. All that came was news of his death,” Cengiz wrote in an op-ed widely published on Friday.

Cengiz praised Turkey’s investigation efforts and called on the United States to lead the way to bring perpetrators to justice.

(Reporting by Sarah Dadouch and Ezgi Erkoyun; Editing by Daren Butler and Angus MacSwan)

Japanese journalist apologizes, recounts days as hostage in Syria

Jumpei Yasuda, the Japanese journalist held in Syria for more than three years, bows during a news conference for the first time since his release last month, at the Japan National Press Club in Tokyo, Japan November 2, 2018. REUTERS/Issei Kato

By Kiyoshi Takenaka

TOKYO (Reuters) – Jumpei Yasuda, a Japanese journalist held by militants in Syria for more than three years, said on Friday he told his captors to deafen him if they suspected he was eavesdropping on their conversations.

Yasuda, 44, said it was one of the darkest moments before his release last month, ending what he called 40 months of physical and psychological “hell”.

“I told them to burst my eardrums and destroy my ears if they don’t like to be heard so much,” the freelance journalist said at the first news conference since his return on Oct 25.

Wearing a black suit and dark blue necktie, and with his greying beard trimmed short, Yasuda bowed in front of reporters and rows of television cameras before taking questions.

Yasuda said he was fully accountable for his actions.

“I would like to offer my apology and express my gratitude to those who worked for my release, and who were worried about me,” he said in a somber voice.

“I am very sorry that my conduct has had the Japanese government involved in this matter,” Yasuda added.

He was captured almost immediately after entering Syria on foot from Turkey in June 2015 and moved from one detention facility to another routinely over the 40 months.

At one location, he was not allowed to make any noise — even the sound of breathing through his nose or cracking of his knuckles — making it virtually impossible for him to move.

“In their logic, my making noise seemed to mean I moved to eavesdrop on what’s going on. So, whenever I made noise, they started doing things like torture (other hostages) and turn off the light,” Yasuda said.

At one point, he didn’t eat for 20 days in an effort to avoid any movement. It left him thin and nauseated.

He later converted to Islam because it allowed him more freedom of movement.

“As a Muslim, you must pray five times a day. As I could move only twice a day during meal time, conversion to Islam meant five additional occasions for me to move,” he said.

Jumpei Yasuda, the Japanese journalist held in Syria for more than three years, addresses a news conference for the first time since his release last month, at the Japan National Press Club in Tokyo, Japan November 2, 2018. REUTERS/Issei Kato

Jumpei Yasuda, the Japanese journalist held in Syria for more than three years, addresses a news conference for the first time since his release last month, at the Japan National Press Club in Tokyo, Japan November 2, 2018. REUTERS/Issei Kato

RECKLESS OR COURAGEOUS?

It was not the first time Yasuda had been detained in the Middle East. He was held in Iraq in 2004 and criticized at home for drawing the government into negotiations for his release.

Yasuda’s latest release, which made front-page news in Japan, rekindled debate about reporting from war zones that some see as reckless adventure and others as courageous journalism.

“My own conduct caused trouble for the Japanese government as well as many people. It is only natural I take criticism,” Yasuda said.

However, he defended the need for on-the-ground reporting in conflict zones.

“States kill people in war. Information is absolutely necessary for people to decide if such an act is acceptable,” Yasuda said. “Information for that purpose should come not only from the states involved but from a third party as well.”

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe thanked Qatar and Turkey for their cooperation after Yasuda was released, but Japan’s government said it did not pay a ransom.

Japanese media have reported he was held hostage by the Nusra Front, but Yasuda said he was not told the identity of his captors and he had no idea what had triggered his release.

Asked if he would go back to war reporting, Yasuda said he didn’t know.

“I am thinking I should be good to my parents. So, I could be more cautious in the way I conduct my reporting from now on.”

(Reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka; editing by Darren Schuettler)

Istanbul prosecutor says Khashoggi was suffocated in Saudi consulate

A security staff member stands at the entrance of Saudi Arabia's consulate in Istanbul, Turkey October 31, 2018. REUTERS/Osman Orsal

By Ece Toksabay and Ali Kucukgocmen

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Istanbul’s chief prosecutor’s office said on Wednesday that journalist Jamal Khashoggi was suffocated in a premeditated killing as soon as he entered Saudi Arabia’s consulate four weeks ago, and his body was then dismembered and disposed of.

In a statement issued after two days of talks with Saudi Arabia’s public prosecutor Saud al-Mojeb, it also said no concrete results were reached in those meetings.

Khashoggi’s death has escalated into a crisis for Saudi Arabia, the world’s top oil exporter, which at first denied any knowledge of or role in his disappearance on Oct. 2.

Mojeb later said Khashoggi’s killing was premeditated and Riyadh said 18 suspects had been arrested. But Turkey, which released a stream of evidence undermining Riyadh’s early denials, has demanded more details including the whereabouts of Khashoggi’s body and who ordered his killing.

“Despite our well-intentioned efforts to reveal the truth, no concrete results have come out of those meetings,” the Istanbul prosecutor’s office said of the talks on Monday and Tuesday between Mojeb and Istanbul chief prosecutor Irfan Fidan.

The killing of Khashoggi, a critic of de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, has put into focus the West’s close relationship with Saudi Arabia – a major arms buyer and lynchpin of Washington’s regional plans to contain Iran.

Riyadh’s European allies have criticized its initial response and U.S. President Donald Trump said Saudi authorities had staged the “worst cover-up ever”, although he has repeatedly said he would not jeopardize U.S. business with the kingdom.

Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan, who has demanded more information from Saudi Arabia, said on Tuesday Fidan had asked Mojeb to disclose who sent a 15-strong team from Riyadh which is suspected of involvement in the killing.

The prosecutor’s statement said Fidan also repeated Ankara’s request for the 18 suspects to be extradited to face trial in Turkey, and asked Mojeb to disclose the identity of a “local cooperator” who, according to a Saudi official, disposed of Khashoggi’s body.

In a written response, Mojeb invited Fidan to Saudi Arabia to question the suspects and determine “the fate of the body” and establish whether the killing was premeditated, the Turkish prosecutor’s statement said.

It said Mojeb’s response also distanced Riyadh from the idea that a “local cooperator” had been involved, saying that Saudi authorities had not made an official statement to that effect.

Mojeb left Turkey on Wednesday evening after a three-day visit during which he also held talks at the offices of Turkey’s National Intelligence Agency (MIT).

Turkey’s relations with Saudi Arabia were strained last year when Ankara sent troops to the Gulf state of Qatar in a show of support after its Gulf neighbors, including Saudi Arabia, imposed an embargo on Doha.

Erdogan’s government has pressed Riyadh to conclude its investigation as soon as possible. “The whole truth must be revealed,” Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said this week.

Erdogan has also called on Saudi Arabia to disclose who ordered Khashoggi’s killing. “There is no point in procrastinating or trying to save some people from under this,” he told reporters on Tuesday.

(Reporting by Ece Toksabay and Ali Kucukgocmen; Editing by Dominic Evans and Angus MacSwan)