STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Treasury Department announced today it's imposing sanctions on 17 senior Saudi Arabian officials for their role in the murder of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Among them is a senior royal court adviser. A move that comes after Saudi prosecutors said they were seeking the death penalty for five people which prosecutors say are responsible for journalist Jamal Khashoggi's death. He's a Washington Post contributor - or he was. He was last seen walking into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2. And NPR's Jackie Northam is covering this story. Hi there, Jackie.
JACKIE NORTHAM, BYLINE: Hi there, Steve.
INSKEEP: OK. So who are the people sanctioned?
NORTHAM: As you say, there are 17 of them. And there are some notable names on the list. Among them is Saoud al-Qahtani. Now, he is a royal court adviser. And he's also the communications chief for Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. So he's high up within the royal court. There's also his communications - or sorry, his deputy, Maher Mutreb. And interestingly enough, Mohammed al-Otaibi. And he was the consul general in Istanbul where Khashoggi was killed. So there are some big names on that list that the U.S. has sanctioned today.
INSKEEP: And the sanctions come out after we learned some acknowledgement, some further acknowledgement from the Saudi - excuse me, Jackie - from the Saudi authorities, which we should go through today. Saudi prosecutors are now seeking the death penalty for five individuals. Is that right?
NORTHAM: That's right. Yes.
INSKEEP: And more people have been charged with roles in Khashoggi's death. What are the Saudi prosecutors saying happened? Because they've had so many different versions of this story.
NORTHAM: Yes, you're right. They've gone through a number of different stories leading up to this. OK. So as you say, five are facing the death penalty right now for this. Twenty-one have - are in custody right now. Eleven have been indicted, and they'll face trial as well. The top prosecutor today said that this was premeditated. It was planned probably about three days in advance. And it was drawn up by the former deputy intelligence chief, a fellow named Ahmed al-Assiri. And they said that he formed a team of 15 people. It was broken into three. One was for logistics. One was for negotiating. They had wanted Jamal Khashoggi to come back. So they tried to negotiate. And then the last one was logistics. And they carried out, you know, this whole plan in the consulate in Istanbul.
INSKEEP: The logistics. Now, if you are going to just persuade someone to come back, I don't think you'd need a logistical team. You would need a logistical team to dispose of a body, I would presume.
NORTHAM: Well, and that's what the Turks said - Turkish officials say has happened is that he was dismembered. But presumably, if they couldn't negotiate - get Jamal Khashoggi to come back, then this was the fallback plan.
INSKEEP: And so they're pinning this plan on a deputy minister of intelligence. Is there anybody higher up than that that was implicated in any way at all?
NORTHAM: Well, of course, Saoud al-Qahtani. You know, he's a very close adviser to, you know, the royal court.
INSKEEP: He counts as a higher person. OK.
NORTHAM: He would be higher. He's also - not only is he facing sanctions, but he's banned from leaving Saudi Arabia right now. But I think what you might be getting at is, are we looking at the crown prince himself, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman? And no would be the simple answer to that. It doesn't go that much higher. And I don't know if that's going to placate a lot of people who have wanted somebody to actually say that, yes, this really was probably directed by him.
INSKEEP: So the Saudi criminal charges don't go up to Mohammed bin Salman. And the U.S. sanctions also don't go up to Mohammed bin Salman.
NORTHAM: No, they don't. No. No.
INSKEEP: So what happens now?
NORTHAM: Well, if you're the Americans, you might think this might be the first step, and there might be some more moves. But it also kind of gives cover to the Trump administration because now they can continue to have a relationship with the crown prince and also Saudi Arabia. If you're Turkey, which has been really adamant about getting the information out on this killing, then they might not be satisfied. There are calls already we're seeing for an international investigation. We'll see how that goes.
INSKEEP: Jackie, thanks for the update.
NORTHAM: Thank you very much, Steve.
INSKEEP: That's NPR's Jackie Northam. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.