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Khashoggi widow urges US to hold Saudis accountable 3 years after brutal murder

Hatice Cengiz and family of other targeted Saudi dissidents hold protest and vigil in Washington, marking anniversary of Jamal Khashoggi's death
Hatice Cengiz, widow of Saudi journalist and dissident Jamal Khashoggi, poses next to his portrait after unveiling it on the National Mall in Washington on 1 October (AFP)

The widow of Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi has questioned whether US President Joe Biden is commited to holding the kingdom accountable three years after the writer's brutal murder.

Marking the anniversary of Khashoggi's death, Hatice Cengiz, also a writer, traveled to Washington for a demonstration outside the Saudi embassy on Friday. She also attended an evening vigil near the US Capitol where she unveiled a portrait of Khashoggi made out of newspaper columns. 

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Cengiz voiced dismay that days ahead of the anniversary, Biden's national security advisor, Jake Sullivan, met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman who US intelligence says ordered Khashoggi's killing.

"Is this what the accountability that Biden promised looks like?" she asked at the candlelight vigil organised by rights groups.

"MBS took Jamal from me and the entire world. Will you hold him accountable or will you reward these murderers?" she said, referring to the Saudi crown prince by his initials.

Khashoggi, a prominent Saudi citizen who lived in self-exile in the United States, wrote critically about MBS in columns in The Washington Post and Middle East Eye.

On 2 October 2018, he entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to file paperwork to marry Cengiz, who is Turkish. According to US and Turkish officials, a waiting Saudi hit squad strangled him and dismembered his body, which has never been retrieved.

Biden let MBS 'off the hook'

US president at the time, Donald Trump played down the episode, saying it was more important that Saudi Arabia buys US weapons and shares hostility toward Iran. Two years later, Trump reflected on his approach regarding MBS's involvement in the Khashoggi murder, telling US journalist Bob Woodward: "I saved his ass". 

"I was able to get Congress to leave him alone. I was able to get them to stop," Trump said during the 22 January 2020 interview. 

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Biden however, vowed a tougher approach, declassifying intelligence and imposing sanctions on Saudis although not on the crown prince himself.

US officials said Sullivan traveled to Saudi Arabia, where MBS is also defense minister, largely to discuss the crisis in Yemen where the kingdom has led a devastating air campaign aimed at defeating the Iranian-backed Houthi movement.

Also addressing the evening vigil was the sister of Abdulrahman al-Sadhan, a Red Crescent aid worker who Saudi authorities arrested in 2018. Earlier this year Sadhan was handed a 20-year sentence for criticising Saudi leadership through an anonymous Twitter account.

"They tortured him so bad, they almost killed him. They broke his hand and smashed his fingers until they were disfigured, saying, 'Is this the hand you tweet with?'" said his sister Areej al-Sadhan, who lives in California.

She said she was hopeful the new US administration's pressure would win her brother's release but that changed after Biden let MBS "off the hook."

"That's how Saudi officials repaid President Biden's generosity, by committing more human rights abuses," she said.