King Salman. Picture: REUTERS
King Salman. Picture: REUTERS

Saudi King Salman heaped praise on the kingdom's judiciary on Monday, in his first public remarks since critic Jamal Khashoggi's murder tipped the country into one of its worst international crises.

The public prosecutor last week exonerated Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of involvement in the murder in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2, but the CIA reportedly concluded that he ordered the assassination.

The prosecutor called for the death penalty against five men, announced indictments against 11 people and said a total of 21 individuals are in custody in connection with the killing.

"The kingdom was founded on Islamic principles of justice and equality, and we are proud of the efforts of the judiciary and the public prosecution," the king said in his annual address to the Shura Council, a top advisory body.

"We ensure that this country will never deviate from implementing God's law and serving justice," the 82-year-old monarch added, without directly addressing in his speech the murder of the Washington Post columnist.

US President Donald Trump, who has praised Saudi Arabia as a "truly spectacular ally", has refrained from blaming Prince Mohammed despite the CIA's reported assessment that he was behind the killing.

Saudi Arabia, which dismissed the reported CIA findings, has offered shifting accounts of what happened, initially saying Khashoggi left the embassy after receiving his documents and later that he was killed when an argument degenerated into a fistfight.

In the latest version, the Saudi prosecutor said a 15-member team went to Istanbul to bring Khashoggi back to the kingdom "by means of persuasion", but killed him instead in a rogue operation.

The US has sanctioned 17 Saudis for the crime, including close aides of Prince Mohammed, and is set to make final conclusions this week over the killing.

In a sign of further international pressure, Germany on Monday said it will bar 18 Saudis from entering its territory and Europe's Schengen passport-free zone over their alleged links to the murder.

AFP