ISTANBUL — Eleven people accused by Saudi Arabia of involvement in the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi attended their first court hearing Thursday in Riyadh, the Saudi capital, according to a statement by the country’s general prosecutor that was carried by the state-run Saudi Press Agency.

The statement, which did not name the defendants, said prosecutors plan to seek the death penalty for five of them. The defendants’ attorneys attended the hearing, the statement added.

Khashoggi, a contributor to The Washington Post who had written columns criticizing the Saudi leadership from his self-imposed exile in the United States, was killed in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2. Saudi and Turkish authorities have said that the perpetrators were members of a 15-person team of Saudi government agents who were sent to Turkey and that Khashoggi’s body was dismembered after he was killed. 

The Saudi government has offered shifting explanations of what occurred in the consulate, after initially denying any knowledge of Khashoggi’s fate. In November, Saudi prosecutors said that two senior Saudi officials had ordered an operation to bring Khashoggi back to Saudi Arabia alive, using either persuasion or force.  

Turkish news claims CCTV footage may show the remains of slain journalist Jamal Khashoggi being moved into the Saudi consul general's residence in Istanbul. (Reuters)

The team sent to Istanbul disobeyed those orders and killed him, the prosecutors said.   

The statement summarizing the court hearing Thursday did not offer much detail except to say that the defendants had requested a copy of the indictment as well as “additional time to respond,” which was granted. It did not answer some of the most urgent questions surrounding the trial, including whether any senior Saudi officials were being prosecuted.

In the three months since Khashoggi’s death, Turkish officials have repeatedly accused the Saudi government of obstructing the investigation by withholding key details, including the location of the journalist’s remains. The prosecutors’ statement Thursday asserted that Turkey has failed to respond to Saudi requests for evidence in the case.