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Jamal Khashoggi's Eldest Son Leaves Saudi Arabia After His Father's Killing


Now to Saudi Arabia where the public prosecutor has confirmed that the death of columnist Jamal Khashoggi was premeditated, reversing earlier official statements. Also today, at the urging of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Saudi Arabia lifted a travel ban on one of the journalist's sons. Salah Khashoggi and his family have now left the kingdom but not before he met with Saudi Arabia's crown prince. NPR's Jackie Northam reports.

JACKIE NORTHAM, BYLINE: On Tuesday, Jamal Khashoggi's his eldest son Salah was called to the Royal Court in Riyadh. King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman wanted to pay their condolences for the death of his father three weeks earlier. The younger Khashoggi's face froze when the crown prince went to shake his hand. It was a bone-chilling scene captured by court photographers.

AARON DAVID MILLER: My first reaction - I think I may even have tweeted this out - that this was essentially a hostage video.

NORTHAM: Aaron David Miller, a Middle East specialist at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, says he can't imagine what was going through Salah Khashoggi's mind at the time.

MILLER: I mean, under what conceivable circumstances would a grieving son have agreed to have an encounter with a man who at a minimum had foreknowledge of this or who validated the whole operation?

NORTHAM: Miller says the meeting was in part to show the crown prince is a benevolent leader consoling a Saudi citizen.

MILLER: It's the kind of cruel transactional bargain that seems to have characterized this whole terrible enterprise. But it may well have been the Saudi demand for actually allowing him to leave.

NORTHAM: That handshake with the crown prince got Salah Khashoggi a plane ticket out of Saudi Arabia. Maggie Mitchell Salem is with the Qatar Foundation, a nonprofit development association based in Doha. She was a close friend of Jamal Khashoggi's. She says he would have supported his son's decision to meet the crown prince. Mitchell Salem says the younger Khashoggi, a financial analyst in his mid-30s, first discovered he was banned from travel in the fall of 2017 shortly after his father had fled Saudi Arabia and began writing critical columns about the crown prince.

MAGGIE MITCHELL SALEM: Salah tried to go on a business trip. He was stopped by Saudi authorities at the airport and told he couldn't leave. And that's when the whole family found out that basically they were all under a travel ban. This would be his four kids, two sons, two daughters. Three of them were living in Dubai at the time.

NORTHAM: Mitchell Salem talked with Jamal Khashoggi regularly during his first few months of self-exile in Washington, D.C. She says he agonized over how his decision to flee Saudi Arabia was impacting his family.

MITCHELL SALEM: His concern was that his son was being made to pay a price. So his freedom - his freedom of expression came at the cost of his son being effectively under arrest in his own country.

NORTHAM: Now Salah Khashoggi, his wife and young daughter are out of Saudi Arabia. It's expected they'll make their way back to Virginia where Salah went to college and where Salem says his siblings have been waiting and keeping quiet until they were sure he was out safely. Jackie Northam, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jackie Northam is NPR's International Affairs Correspondent. She is a veteran journalist who has spent three decades reporting on conflict, geopolitics, and life across the globe - from the mountains of Afghanistan and the desert sands of Saudi Arabia, to the gritty prison camp at Guantanamo Bay and the pristine beauty of the Arctic.
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