Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Picture: REUTERS / SERGIO MORAES
Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Picture: REUTERS / SERGIO MORAES

Washington — The US will deny entry to 16 Saudi nationals over “their roles” in the murder of the columnist Jamal Khashoggi, as the administration seeks to sustain pressure on the kingdom to come up with a credible account of his death, the state department announced on Monday.

The 16 people, including Saud al-Qahtani, a senior adviser to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, had already been sanctioned by the US over Khashoggi’s death. Monday’s action was done under the 2019 state department appropriations bill, which requires secretary of state Michael Pompeo to refuse entry to individuals and immediate family members if he has information that they’ve 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 said.

Mysterious death

Khashoggi was killed October 2 2019 after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Questions have centred on whether the crown prince knew about or ordered the killing, a possibility US intelligence agencies consider likely, and whether the Trump administration will be willing to sacrifice its strategic partnership with Saudi Arabia to hold him accountable.

Monday’s announcement comes at a delicate time. On Friday, the Associated Press reported that the Saudi authorities had detained 12 people, including two dual American citizens, in a round of arrests against people supportive of women’s rights.

Pompeo has repeatedly insisted the US will do what’s necessary to punish those responsible for the death of Khashoggi, a former Saudi insider turned critic who had moved to the US and was a columnist for the Washington Post.

In congressional testimony in March, Pompeo said President Donald Trump has “made very clear that we will continue to work to identify those who are responsible for Jamal Khashoggi’s murder and hold them accountable”.

Trump has been eager to prevent Khashoggi’s killing from complicating or weakening US ties to the kingdom, around which the administration has built much of its Middle East strategy. But senators from both parties have demanded the White House be more forthcoming about intelligence gathered on what happened to Khashoggi, and have signalled they may back broader sanctions against Saudi Arabia.