Saudi Arabia Held to Fire in 9/11 Suit on Slaying of Khashoggi

(CN) — A day after Turkish authorities charged 20 Saudis in connection with journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s murder, a New York federal judge advanced a bid Thursday to include that international scandal as part of a lawsuit seeking to hold the kingdom liable for the 9/11 attacks.

Ever since Khashoggi’s killing on Oct. 2, 2018, the Saudi government has scrambled to insulate its senior officials from the murder while attempting to present an outward appearance of accountability.

The kingdom condemned five people to death late last year following a closed-door trial that otherwise absolved an adviser to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and another senior official of wrongdoing.

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attends a Sept. 18, 2019, meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. (Mandel Ngan/Pool Photo via AP)

Now, within 24 hours, two separate events half a world away reopen the case that the Saudi government would rather treat as closed.

First the Turkish government charged two top Saudi officials, Saud al-Qahtani, a close adviser to Mohammed, and Ahmed al-Assiri, a former deputy head of Saudi intelligence, on Wednesday with having “instigated premeditated murder with monstrous intent,” according to the Washington Post.

PEN America, a prominent advocate for freedom of expression, welcomed the move as advancing the interests of justice.

“The Istanbul prosecutors have advanced the case despite obstruction from the government of Saudi Arabia and continued inaction by the U.S. government,” the group’s Washington director Thomas Melia wrote in a statement.

A day later in New York, U.S. Magistrate Judge Sarah Netburn compounded Saudi Arabia’s woes by allowing counsel for the 9/11 families to pursue allegations of witness intimidation.

Attorneys for 9/11 families first revealed late last month that their investigator met with Khashoggi on Oct. 26, 2017, a little less than a year before the journalist was killed inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

Khashoggi sent a text message that day to then-Saudi Ambassador Khalid bin Salman, who tweeted about his contact with Khashoggi shortly after the journalist’s death.

Examining the allegations at a hearing earlier this month, Judge Netburn ordered the families’ attorney Andrew Maloney to share information with her privately documenting the alleged acts of witness intimidation. Saudi Arabia’s attorney Michael Kellogg moved to strike those claims for the record or identify the witnesses making the claims in order to investigate them.

Netburn shot down both motions Thursday in a terse, 1-page ruling that orders attorneys for the 9/11 families to share information with her under seal about any efforts to inform the Department of Justice about the alleged acts of intimidation.

That a Washington Post journalist was killed in a Saudi consulate in Istanbul set off a geopolitical firestorm, with two Middle Eastern countries wrangling over regional dominance and leaders aspiring to wield the mantle of leader of the Muslim world. Neither Turkey, which recently held the record as the world’s leading press jailer, nor Saudi Arabia, implicated in a brazen assassination of a prominent journalist, can be called a friend of the media.

President Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner enjoys close relationships with both autocracies. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s son-in-law Berat Albayrak is sometimes called Turkey’s Kushner, for his senior positions in government and access to the White House. Kushner’s ties to Mohammed bin Salman has been described as that of “Two Princes.”

Those ties came under scrutiny in the face of White House inaction in the wake of Khashoggi’s killing.

“In the face of this decisive action, the reluctance of the U.S. government to take even minimal action looks like sheer cowardice,” PEN America’s Melia wrote. “We renew our call for the U.S. director of national intelligence to abide by U.S. law and send to Congress an unclassified report identifying those who carried out, ordered, or were otherwise complicit in Khashoggi’s killing, and for all those responsible to be held to account.”

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