By Elton Gomes
Weeks after the disappearance of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, Saudi Arabia has admitted that the journalist was killed inside its consulate in the Turkish city of Istanbul.
After repeatedly denying any knowledge about Khashoggi’s whereabouts, the kingdom has finally acknowledged that the murder was premeditated. Whereabouts of Khashoggi’s body remain unknown.
Saudi Arabia has face significant pressure in the entire investigation, particularly since Khashoggi was a vocal critic of the kingdom.
Events leading up to the investigation have claimed that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salma was complicit in Khashogggi’s killing, with efforts now being made to protect the Prince from a potential sentence.
Who was Jamal Khashoggi?
A permanent resident of the United Stated, Khashoggi was under self-imposed exile from Saudi Arabia. He lived in a condo in Virginia since 2008.
He was a vocal critic of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and differed with Saudi’s policies on the country’s war in Yemen, its approach to Iran, its crackdown on critics, and its deep opposition to political Islamists.
Why was he at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul?
Khashoggi initially visited the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on September 28 to obtain a document certifying that he had divorced his ex-wife. He wanted this document so that he could legally marry his Turkish fiancée. Khashoggi was planning to marry her on October 3. But he was told that he would have come back again on October 2. However, Khashoggi disappeared on October 2 at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
What did Turkey say then?
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan alleged that Khashoggi was murdered. Erdogan said that there was evidence that the “savage” killing was planned days in advance.
The Turkish President added that three teams of 15 Saudi nationals entered Istanbul before the murder. This group of Saudi nationals allegedly removed the security cameras and surveillance footage from the consulate building prior to Khashoggi’s arrival.
On October 31, Turkey alleged that after Khashoggi entered the consulate, he was immediately strangled and his body was dismembered. Media reports stated that Turkey had audio and video recordings of the killing, but did not mention how they ahd been obtained.
How did Saudi respond?
For more than two weeks Saudi Arabia consistently denied any knowledge of Khashoggi’s whereabouts. Prince Mohammed bin Salman told Bloomberg that Khashoggi had left the consulate “after a few minutes or one hour”. “We have nothing to hide,” the Prince added, as per a BBC report.
Prince Mohammed’s brother and the Saudi ambassador to the US, Prince Khaled bin Salman, claimed all reports about Khasoggi’s disappearance or death were “completely false and baseless”.
However, on October 20, state television reported that Khashoggi had been murdered in a “rogue operation”.
A Saudi official told Reuters that Khashoggi had died in a chokehold after resisting order to return to Saudi Arabia. The official said that his body was then rolled in a rug and given to a local “co-operator” so that it could be disposed of. Thereafter, a Saudi operative donned his clothes and left the premises.
The authorities announced that 18 Saudi nationals have been arrested, and two senior officials – deputy intelligence chief Ahmad al-Assiri and Saud al-Qahtani – were dismissed.
What did Trump say?
The White House did not provide elaborate comments, but President Donald Trump told reporters he’s “concerned about it” and said he didn’t like it.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was reportedly monitoring the situation closely, but the State Department did not address the issue in detail.
The Trump administration has had a good relationship with the Saudis, while US-Turkey relations have been strained due to the imprisonment of an American pastor, which Trump has been critical of.
Turkey shared Khashoggi recordings with Saudi, US, others
Recordings related to Khashoggi’s death have been passed on to Saudi Arabia, the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, and France, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Saturday, November 10.
Speaking before he left for Paris for World War I commemorations, Erdogan said: “We passed on the recordings. We gave them to Saudi Arabia, to America, to the Germans, French and the English — we gave them all,” CNN reported. Erdogan did not specify what was on the recordings.
Turkish police end search for Khashoggi’s body
According to reports on November 10, the Turkish police ended the search for Khashoggi’s body. However, the criminal investigation into the Saudi journalist’s murder was to continue, sources told Al Jazeera.
Al Jazeera reported that traces of acid were found at the Saudi consul-general’s residence in Istanbul, where Khashoggi’s body was allegedly disposed of with the use of chemicals.
It was further reported that Saudi Arabia attempted to cover up the alleged murder by insisting that Khashoggi had left the consulate. It then changed its stance, saying that the journalist died in a fistfight. After that, Saudi admitted that Khashoggi was killed in a premeditated murder, but that the killing was an unplanned “rogue operation”.
Both Turkish and Saudi officials have conducted joint inspections of the consulate and the consul’s residence. But Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan believes some Saudi officials were trying to cover up the crime.
Saudi admits Khashoggi was killed in its Istanbul consulate
Recent reports stated that Saudi admitted its officials were behind Khashoggi’s killing.
As per a spokesman for the public prosecutor’s office, Khashoggi died after being drugged by five Saudi officials and he was then dismembered. The journalist’s body parts were then handed over to an agent outside the consulate grounds, the spokesman said.
The spokesman said that Prince Mohammed was unaware of the killing, which happened inside the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate, in response to a journalist’s question.
The spokesman said the deputy chief of Saudi intelligence, General Ahmed al-Assiri, had given orders to force Khashoggi to return home, and “the head of the negotiating team” that flew to Istanbul had ordered his murder.
Turkey calls for international Investigation
Turkey however seemed dissatisfied with the spokesman’s comments and called for an international investigation.
“At the current stage we believe an international investigation is a must,” Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu was quoted as saying by the state-run Anadolu news agency, AFP reported.
Turkey had initially prioritised cooperation with Saudi Arabia. In October, Riyadh had sent its chief prosecutor to Istanbul to hold talks with Turkish authorities and to examine the consulate.
However, Turkish officials are casting doubts over Saudi Arabia’s intent to willingly cooperate in the investigation.
“In the beginning we said we formed a working group with Saudi Arabia and that we had no plans to take the (murder) into international court,” Cavusoglu said in parliament. He then added that since that was not the case anymore, the government now believed an international probe was essential. “We will do whatever needed to shed light on all its aspects of this murder,” Cavusoglu said, as per the AFP report.
US imposes sanctions on 17 suspects, but not on Crown Prince Salman
The United States, on Thursday, imposed punishing economic sanctions on 17 Saudis who are allegedly involved in Khashoggi’s murder. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, however, remains untouched by US sanctions.
“The Saudi officials we are sanctioning were involved in the abhorrent killing of Jamal Khashoggi. These individuals who targeted and brutally killed a journalist who resided and worked in the United States must face consequences for their actions,” said Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, AFP reported.
By not taking Prince Mohammed to task, the Trump administration has attempted to protect the Prince from blame. The US’ actions indicate that Washington supports the theory that “rogue actors” had carried out the plot without Prince Mohammed’s knowledge.
Saudi Arabia to pursue death penalty for five suspects
Saudi Arabia will seek the death penalty against the five suspects in Khashoggi’s murder, its top prosecutor said on Thursday.
A total of 11 people were charged, the Saudi prosecutor’s office said, adding that the five suspects facing capital punishment were directly involved in “ordering and executing the crime”.
The prosecutor’s announcement could be said to be an attempt to distance the killers and their operation from the kingdom’s leadership, primarily Prince Mohammed.
Although Turkey seems discontent with the move, it could be sufficient for some of Saudi Arabia’s Western allies to move on and press for key demands, such as an end to the war in Yemen.
Elton Gomes is a staff writer at Qrius