Khashoggi murder trial opens in Istanbul

Twenty Saudi nationals will be tried in absentia

Trial over the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi opened on Friday in Istanbul, with 20 Saudi nationals to be tried in absentia, news wires reported. Among the defendants are two former top aides to Saudi Arabia's powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Khashoggi, a vocal critic of the prince, was killed inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October 2018.

The trial in Istanbul follows an international outcry over the murder. Turkish prosecutors accuse the former deputy head of Saudi intelligence, Ahmed al-Asiri, and the royal court's media adviser Saud al-Qahtani of having led the operation and instructed a Saudi hit team. The other 18 defendants are accused of having suffocated Khashoggi, whose remains have not been found. Turkish officials say his body was dismembered and removed to an unknown site.

The journalist, who was resident in the US, had entered the consulate seeking papers for his impending wedding. His fiancee Hatice Cengiz is attending the trial alongside the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, Agnes Callamard, who has directly linked the crown prince to the killing, AFP news agency reports.

The Saudi authorities initially denied any involvement in the case, but later called it a "rogue operation". In December a court in Saudi Arabia sentenced five people to death and three to jail for Khashoggi's killing, but the trial was secretive and the defendants were not named. The CIA and some Western governments believe the murder was ordered by Crown Prince Salman - something he denies. The crown prince is de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia.

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