Saudi ‘murder team killed journalist Khashoggi in Istanbul consulate and cut body up’
MEE reported a senior Turkish police source as saying that police believed that Khashoggi, a prominent 59-year-old critic of the Saudi government who had gone into self-imposed exile, was “brutally tortured, killed and cut into pieces” inside the consulate. “Everything was videotaped to prove the mission had been accomplished and the tape was taken out of the country,” the source said.
In the past 24 hours, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has stepped up his involvement in the affair, describing Khashoggi as a “friend” and a “journalist I knew for a long time”. So far Erdogan has refrained from taking a strong line on events, saying he was awaiting a final report by prosecutors investigating the apparent death. However, he has also said he is “chasing” the case and if he does come out with an attack on Riyadh over the affair, the ongoing rift between regional powers Saudi Arabia and Turkey will widen. Ankara has taken the side of Qatar over the blockading of the small nation by Saudi Arabia and other neighbours, while Turkey’s rapprochement with Iran has riled the Riyadh government. Another point of contention is Turkey’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood, the Sunni Islamist organisation considered a terrorist entity by the Saudis. Turkey and Qatar are seen as the group’s primary state backers.
An unnamed Turkish official told Reuters that police believed the body of Khashoggi was removed from the building. “The initial assessment of the Turkish police is that Mr Khashoggi has been killed at the consulate of Saudi Arabia in Istanbul. We believe that the murder was premeditated and the body was subsequently moved out of the consulate,” said the official.
Officials told various news outlets that they had concluded Khashoggi, who was visiting the consulate to obtain a document related to his upcoming wedding, was killed in an act of state-sponsored murder. They said they had based their beliefs on an investigation by police and intelligence officers, who pored over security camera footage and spoke with informants inside the consulate. Investigators have examined five days of security camera footage that captured all those entering and leaving both entrances to the consulate. They observed men from inside the consulate moving boxes to a black car in the hours after Khashoggi vanished. They managed to confirm Khashoggi’s entrance to the building, but they were unable to obtain footage of him leaving—even though officials at the consulate claim he left not long after arriving.
Police told media that about 15 Saudis, including officials, came to Istanbul on two private flights on October 2 and were in the consulate at the same time that Khashoggi entered it. They departed again the same day, according to MEE’s sources.
Their diplomatic bags could not be opened, a security source reportedly told MEE, but Turkish intelligence was sure that Khashoggi’s remains were not in them.
An advisor to President Erdogan, C, told Turkish CNN: “There is concrete information; it will not remain an unsolved case. If they consider Turkey to be as it was in the 1990s, they are mistaken.”
However, Saudi Consul-general in Istanbul Mohammad al-Otaibi told Sky News in an interview that “I would like to confirm that… Jamal is not at the consulate nor in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and the consulate and the embassy are working to search for him”. Consular officials have claimed that they are unable to come up with video footage of Khashoggi in the consulate because the building’s internal cameras monitor but do not record.
Khashoggi, who regularly wrote for publications including The Washington Post—he has been based in Washington, DC, since fleeing from his homeland in 2017—had pointedly criticised the Saudi Kingdom’s new crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, and aspects of his reform programme. Though he is often referred to as a dissident, his friends tend to describe him as a journalist and intellectual.
Human Rights Watch called for international investigators to be included in a transparent investigation into the disappearance of Khashoggi.
“Given Saudi’s abuse of its diplomatic privileges—and all norms of diplomatic order—by brazenly kidnapping someone and allegedly killing him in their consulate, there should be a global demand for an international investigation into what happened,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, HRW’s executive director Middle East and North Africa. “This shouldn’t be left in the hands of Saudi Arabia or Turkey.”
“Khashoggi’s reported kidnapping and even murder in the safe confines of the Saudi consulate is a deliberate strategy to sow fear into every Saudi who has spoken out about the government’s shortcomings, no matter how modestly or gently. The Saudi government wants them to know they are not safe inside or outside Saudi, and that no law or government can protect them.”
Hundreds of arrests
Under the crown prince, Saudi authorities have carried out hundreds of arrests citing national security. They have rounded up clerics, journalists, business executives and even women’s rights advocates.
An unnamed official from the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 6 dismissed the claim that Khashoggi was murdered in the consulate, describing the allegations to the Saudi Press Agency as “baseless”.
Crown Prince Mohammed told Bloomberg in an interview on October 5 that Turkish authorities could search their consulate, as they had “nothing to hide”. He added that Khashoggi had left the building not long after he entered. Some Reuters journalists toured the facility on October 6, but Turkish authorities had not entered it.
“If the reports of Jamal’s murder are true, it is a monstrous and unfathomable act,” Fred Hiatt, the director of The Washington Post’s editorial page, said in a statement. “Jamal was—or, as we hope, is—a committed, courageous journalist. He writes out of a sense of love for his country and deep faith in human dignity and freedom. He is respected in his country, in the Middle East and throughout the world. We have been enormously proud to publish his writings.”