The US State Department has barred entry to 16 Saudi nationals over what it described as their role in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
The announcement on Monday by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo comes as the Trump administration faces pressure from Congress over its response to the killing in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last October, which sparked unprecedented international scrutiny of the kingdom’s human rights record.
The section under which the individuals have been designated “provides that, in cases where the Secretary of State has credible information that officials of foreign governments have been involved in significant corruption or gross violations of human rights, those individuals and their immediate family members are ineligible for entry into the United States”.
The State Department previously revoked visas of nearly two dozen Saudi officials and froze the assets of 17 others.
A critic of the Saudi regime, Khashoggi was killed and dismembered October 2 in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul by a team of 15 agents sent from Riyadh. His body has never been recovered.
Those barred included Saud al-Qahtani, a former close adviser to the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (also known as MBS), and Maher Mutreb, the alleged leader of the 15-man
After having repeatedly denied murdering Khashoggi, Saudi Arabia said the operation was carried out by agents who were out of control. A trial of 11 suspects opened earlier this year in Saudi Arabia.
But much of the case remains shrouded, beginning with MBS’ role.
The US Senate, after a closed-door briefing by the CIA, adopted a resolution in December naming the crown prince as “responsible” for the murder.
President Donald Trump has refused to publicly take a stand.
“He’s the leader of Saudi Arabia. They’ve been a very good ally,” Trump said in an interview in the Oval Office in December.
Asked if standing by the kingdom meant standing by MBS, Trump responded: “Well, at this moment, it certainly does.”
A report in the Washington Post earlier this month said Saudi Arabia gave Khashoggi’s four children “million-dollar houses” and “monthly five-figure payments” as compensation for the killing of their father.
The kingdom is trying to come to a long-term understanding with the Khashoggi family members to encourage them to continue to refrain from criticism in relation to their father’s killing by Saudi agents, the paper reported.
Larger payouts – “possibly tens of millions of dollars apiece” – as part of “blood money” negotiations could be offered in the coming months, the paper said, citing accounts by current and former Saudi officials as well as people close to the family.