Jamal Khashoggi Was Murdered At Saudi Consulate, Turkish Officials Conclude

The evidence that Saudi Arabia murdered Washington Post columnist and American Permanent resident Jamal Khashoggi appears to be incontrovertible.

Turkish investigators have now officially concluded that Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi dissident who was once a member of the elite of Saudi society and close to the powers behind the throne in the Saudi Royal Family, was murdered when he visited the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last Tuesday and never returned:

ANKARA, Turkey — Top Turkish security officials have concluded that the Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi was assassinated in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on orders from the highest levels of the royal court, a senior official said Tuesday.

The official described a quick and complex operation in which Mr. Khashoggi was killed within two hours of his arrival at the consulate by a team of Saudi agents, who dismembered his body with a bone saw they brought for the purpose.

“It is like ‘Pulp Fiction,'” the official said.

Saudi officials, including Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, have denied the allegations, insisting that Mr. Khashoggi left the consulate freely shortly after he arrived. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey has demanded that the Saudis provide evidence proving their claim.

It remains unclear how the Turkish government determined that Mr. Khashoggi had been killed, but the conclusion that the Saudi royal court ordered it could increase the pressure on both sides of the dispute. It would make it more difficult for the two governments to come up with a face-saving story blaming Mr. Khashoggi’s disappearance on some third party, on rogue elements of the Saudi security forces, or on an accident during an interrogation that went wrong.

Turkish officials have left things murky enough — speaking on condition of anonymity and refusing to publicly disclose their evidence — that such possibilities cannot be ruled out. Some pro-government news outlets have reported that the police were still investigating the possibility that Mr. Khashoggi was abducted, not killed.

But as more than a week has passed since he was last seen, the possibility that he is alive has dwindled.

The security establishment concluded that Mr. Khashoggi’s killing was directed from the top because only the most senior Saudi leaders could order an operation of such scale and complexity, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to disclose confidential briefings.

Fifteen Saudi agents had arrived on two charter flights last Tuesday, the day Mr. Khashoggi disappeared, the official said.

All 15 left just a few hours later, and Turkey has now identified the roles that most or all of them held in the Saudi government or security services, the official said. One was an autopsy expert, presumably there to help dismember the body, the official said.

Mr. Erdogan was informed of the conclusions on Saturday, according to several people with knowledge of the briefings, and he has since dispatched officials to anonymously tell myriad news outlets, including The New York Times, that Mr. Khashoggi was killed inside the Saudi Consulate.

But Mr. Erdogan himself has not publicly accused Saudi Arabia of killing Mr. Khashoggi. Nor has the Turkish president disclosed specific evidence to back up that allegation.

His reticence has raised questions about whether Turkey might ultimately back away from an explicit accusation in the interest of preserving relations with Saudi Arabia, a wealthy regional heavyweight. Mr. Erdogan may prefer not to alienate the kingdom as he struggles to manage a troubled economy and a many-sided power struggle over the outcome of the civil war in neighboring Syria.

A publication with close ties to Mr. Erdogan’s government, the newspaper Sabah, reported Tuesday that unnamed officials had said the police were examining the possibility that Mr. Khashoggi had been abducted and not killed, possibly with the help of another country’s intelligence officers.

The official who spoke about Mr. Khashoggi’s killing said that report and other similar ones were incorrect and were probably the result of the limited information shared among different agencies within the Turkish government.

Another person briefed on the matter, speaking on condition of anonymity to disclose confidential details, told The Times on Saturday that Turkish intelligence had obtained a video of the killing, made by the Saudis to prove that it had occurred.

A commentator close to Mr. Erdogan’s government said so publicly on Tuesday.

“There is a video of the moment of him being killed,” Kemal Ozturk, a columnist in a pro-government newspaper and the former head of a semiofficial news agency, said in an interview on a pro-government television network, citing unnamed security officials.

Saudi Arabia continued to disclaim any knowledge of Mr. Khashoggi’s fate and even to express concern for his safety. Both governments said Tuesday that Saudi Arabia had allowed the Turkish police to search the Istanbul consulate, a deviation from normal diplomatic agreements.

Another senior Turkish official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss diplomatic strategy, said Ankara hoped that Washington and the international community would take the lead in challenging Saudi Arabia over the fate of Mr. Khashoggi, a legal resident of the United States and a columnist for The Washington Post.

The Trump administration had been largely silent on the matter until Monday, when President Trump said he was “concerned” about it in response to a question from a reporter.

More from The Washington Post, which has a report essentially laying out the details of the apparent Saudi plot

ISTANBUL — As Jamal Khashoggi prepared to enter the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2, a squad of men from Saudi Arabia who investigators suspect played a role in his disappearance was ready and in place.

They had arrived from Riyadh, the Saudi capital, early that morning and checked in at two inter­national hotels in Istanbul before driving to the consulate in the leafy Levent neighborhood, said two people with knowledge of the investigation. One of them, the Mövenpick Hotel Istanbul, is a few minutes from the consulate by car.

By the end of the day, a 15-member Saudi team had conducted its business and left the country, departing on planes bound for Cairo and Dubai, according to flight records and the people familiar with the investigation.

Turkish officials have previously said they believe that Khashoggi, a prominent journalist and critic of the Saudi government, was killed inside the consulate.

Turkish officials, who are examining the squad’s movements, have now expanded their investigation to explore what happened at the residence of the Saudi consul general, Mohammed al-Otaibi, located 500 yards from the consulate. A photograph taken from a Turkish police closed-circuit television camera outside the residence and obtained by The Washington Post shows a Mercedes Vito van with tinted windows that security officials say transported some of those men from the consulate to the residence about two hours after Khashoggi entered the consulate.

In the week since the disappearance of Khashoggi, a contributor to The Post’s Global Opinions section, the Saudi government has maintained that he left the consulate soon after he arrived. Not only do they not know what happened to him, they say, but they are also worried for his safety.

“It goes without saying that his family in the Kingdom remain gravely concerned about him, and so are we,” the Saudi ambassador to Washington, Khalid bin Salman, wrote in a message that was shared with the news media on Monday.

Before Khashoggi’s disappearance, U.S. intelligence intercepted communications of Saudi officials discussing a plan to capture him, according to a person familiar with the information. The Saudis wanted to lure Khashoggi back to Saudi Arabia and lay hands on him there, this person said. It was not clear whether the Saudis intended to arrest and interrogate Khashoggi or to kill him, or if the United States warned Khashoggi that he was a target, this person said.

Saudi officials, however, have denied reports that they sent a 15-man team to Istanbul on the day Khashoggi disappeared, saying that the only team they sent to Turkey consisted of investigators who arrived Saturday to help find the journalist.

According to flight records, two privately owned planes flying from Riyadh arrived in Istanbul on Oct. 2, one before sunrise and the other in the late afternoon. A Turkish official linked the call signals of the two twin-engine Gulfstream IV planes to those that investigators believe carried the 15 Saudis. The planes are owned by Riyadh-based Sky Prime Aviation Services, according to public records.

Flight data collected by AirNavRadarBox, a firm that tracks private and commercial planes all over the world, showed that the first of the two planes left Riyadh late Oct. 1 and touched down in Istanbul the following day at 3:15 a.m.

They checked into the Mövenpick, one of the people with knowledge of the investigation said. Management at the five-star hotel said they were not allowed to confirm or deny that the group had checked in or that their hotel was part of the investigation. A hotel worker confirmed that the group checked in Tuesday. “The police came two or three days ago,” he said.

The first plane was carrying the part of the Saudi team that was awaiting Khashoggi at the consulate, investigators believe, when he arrived at 1:14 p.m. to collect a document he needed for his upcoming marriage.

Turkey’s government says it has seen no evidence supporting the Saudi claim that Khashoggi ever left the consulate alive.

Turkish police operate at least one camera at the front of the building. Investigators have also examined footage that covers the rear of the mission. Closed-circuit TV camera feeds from the preschool opposite the rear entrance have been retrieved by Turkish intelligence, and images from outside the hotels are also being reviewed, according to people familiar with the probe.

A camera recorded Khashoggi entering the consulate at 1:14 p.m., but he was never seen leaving.

“It’s clear he did not exit,” said one Turkish official with knowledge of the investigation, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the ongoing investigation.

Behind a gate next to the front entrance is a covered car port, out of the view of cameras. From that garage, two vehicles exited about two hours after Khashoggi entered the consulate, according to one of the people briefed on the investigation. One of the cars was the Mercedes that pulled up in front of the residence of Otaibi, the Saudi consul general, at 3:09 p.m., according to the time stamp on the video still of the Mercedes obtained by The Post.

The drive to the consulate takes only a few minutes. The building is topped with the Saudi emblem of golden crossed swords and a palm tree. A Saudi flag flies outside. Two private security guards in a booth outside confirmed that the video still appeared to be shot from a camera that belonged to the police.

The cars stayed at Otaibi’s residence for four hours, according to an account published Tuesday in Sabah, a pro-government Turkish newspaper connected to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The report added that Turkish employees at the residence were “hastily” told to leave that day. The veracity of the report could not be confirmed.

Flight data shows that a second private jet, believed by investigators to be transporting the rest of the team, touched down in Istanbul at 5:15 p.m. It is unclear whether those on board traveled to either the consulate or the residence. It departed an hour and 15 minutes after it arrived, heading for Cairo. Twenty-five hours after its arrival in Cairo, the plane left for Riyadh.

Here’s the photo released by Turkish authorities purporting to show Khashoggi entering the consulate and there is no similar video showing him leaving:

This obviously leads to the only logical conclusion, which is that Khashoggi was detained inside the consulate and that he was either abducted and returned to Saudi Arabia on one of the two planes that arrived in Istanbul that day and departed again hours after he had disappeared, or that he was murdered in the consulate and his body or whatever was left of it was taken out of Turkey on one or both of those planes. For their part, the Saudis continue to maintain the fiction that Khashoggi arrived at the consulate, conducted his business, and left but have provided no evidence at all to support this claim. In fact, when Tennessee Senator Bob Corker, who heads the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, asked the Saudi Ambassador to the United States why the Saudis had not released footage from their own video cameras at the entrance to the consulate, he got a fundamentally absurd answer:

Corker, an outspoken critic of Saudi Arabia, said he spoke recently with the Saudi ambassador to the U.S., who told him that the surveillance video outside the consulate only live-streams and does not record.

“I’ve never ever heard of a security system like that,” Corker added. “That was pretty hard for me to believe. And I shared that with him. And he said, ‘well, it was malfunctioning and it was only live-streaming.’ And so to me it feels very much like some nefarious activity has occurred by them. But I don’t want to rush to judgment. They need to figure out a way if it’s not true to … show that he left the embassy after coming in.”

This, of course, is too absurd to be believed. The Saudis aren’t exactly amateurs when it comes to intelligence gathering, and the idea that their consulate in a nation such as Turkey would not be equipped with security systems that include recorded video is too absurd to be believed. The more likely explanation is that the Saudi camera footage from that day would show exactly the same thing as the Turkish police cameras do, namely that Khashoggi entered the consulate shortly before 1:15 pm local time last Tuesday and that he never walked out under his own power. At this point, of course, any copies of those videos have either been destroyed or, more likely taken back to Riyadh by the team of apparent assassins that left Turkey the day Khashoggi disappeared. Put simply, all of the available evidence tells us that Khashoggi entered the consulate, that he never returned, and that a fifteen-member team of Saudis arrived in and quickly departed Turkey on the day that he disappeared. In this regard, it’s worth noting that Khashoggi was likely to come to the consulate since he had been there the week before to obtain a document needed so he could get married in Turkey and told to return last Tuesday. Therefore, the Saudis knew that he was likely to return and they were laying in wait for him. As I stated, there are only two logical conclusions that can be drawn from this evidence. Either Jamal Khashoggi was taken into custody and abducted, or he was murdered, and the available evidence makes it far more likely that he was murdered.

As Daniel Larison says in his most recent post on the matter, the Saudis must be forced to answer for what happened here. As Larison puts it, all the evidence points in the direction that this was a “cold, calculated hit” and that the Saudis are quite simply brazenly lying to the world, to Members of Congress and Senators like Corker, and to the Trump Administration. Under the circumstances, there are any number of things that this Administration can do in response to this latest brutal action by the Saudi regime. For starters, there ought to be open and public condemnation of the what the Saudi’s have done here and a demand for an immediate explanation for what happened to Khashoggi. Second, we could recall our Ambassador to Riyadh and encourage our European and other allies to do the same in protest of what the Saudis have done here. Third, we should immediately all but the most necessary cooperation between the American military and the Saudi military. Finally, we should at least consider the possibility of international sanctions against Riyadh and members of the Saudi royal family unless the Saudis provide information on Khashoggi’s fate and surrender custody of the people responsible for planning and carrying out his murder.

Additionally, Khashoggi’s fiance Hatice Cengiz took to the Op-Ed page of The Washington Post to beg the Administration to act:

At this time, I implore President Trump and first lady Melania Trump to help shed light on Jamal’s disappearance. I also urge Saudi Arabia, especially King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, to show the same level of sensitivity and release CCTV footage from the consulate. Although this incident could potentially fuel a political crisis between the two nations, let us not lose sight of the human aspect of what happened. Jamal is a valuable person, an exemplary thinker and a courageous man who has been fighting for his principles. I don’t know how I can keep living if he was abducted or killed in Turkey.

None of this is likely to happen, of course. The United States has little history of calling the Saudis out for their human rights violations in the past and it seems unlikely that this will change even in response to this egregious attack, and this Administration seems even less likely to do so. From the early days of his Administration, President Trump has enjoyed a relationship with the Saudis that is even more obsequious than we have seen in the past. In part, this is consistent with his general admiration for dictators and disdain for our democratic allies, but it also seems connected to the adulation that was poured on Trump during his trip there last year, which happened to be one of the first foreign visits of his Presidency. Additionally, Mohammed bin Salman the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia who appears to be acting as King in all but name at this point, is close to many people in Trump’s inner-circle, including Trump’s Son-In-Law Jared Kushner, who of course is somehow the Administration’s point person on Middle East peace despite having absolutely no experience in diplomacy generally or the Middle East specifically. Because of this relationship, the Trump Administration is likely to look the other way and let the Saudis quite literally get away with murder.

FILED UNDER: Donald Trump, Middle East, Politicians, US Politics, , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. KM says:

    Because of this relationship, the Trump Administration is likely to look the other way and let the Saudis quite literally get away with murder.

    Of course they will – they let Russia murder people all over the world with impunity so why not the Saudis? It’s getting to the point where nations can just take out dissents or people they don’t like and we just shrug our shoulders. This is man who’s lived in our borders, worked to promote our ideals such as government transparency and accountability and spoke up about abuses of power. He’s obviously been harmed or killed and we’re supposed to accept blatant lies from an “ally” about what happened?

    Trump and Co don’t care because he’s Saudi but as these nations see they can get away with murder, what’s to stop them from attacking different nationalities?

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  2. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    Mohammed bin Salam…is close to many people in Trump’s inner-circle, including Trump’s Son-In-Law Jared Kushner

    I’m not sure that charachterization is 100% accurate…the Crown Prince said that he has Kushner in his pocket.
    Wake up, folks…this is the world that Dennison and his supporters want…
    NO DISSENT FROM THE PARTY LINE
    If they aren’t stopped at the mid-terms this Republic will end.

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  3. James Pearce says:

    The official described a quick and complex operation in which Mr. Khashoggi was killed within two hours of his arrival at the consulate by a team of Saudi agents, who dismembered his body with a bone saw they brought for the purpose.

    Dismembered with a bone saw? That’s utterly bizarre. Consider: The Saudis didn’t need some 15 man team to come in, execute Khashoggi, cut him up, etc.

    They just needed one fall guy…

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  4. Kathy says:

    If Trump demands anything from the Saudis in this instance, it will be lessons on how to do the same thing in US embassies and consulates.

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  5. Robert C says:

    @KM:

    Israel’s been doing this for years…and we never care. No news here.

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  6. Andre Kenji de Sousa says:

    Pinochet was never charged for killing Orlando Letelier in f* Washington DC. Don’t expect anything to come from here.

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  7. Neil Hudelson says:

    If Americans are shocked by this murder, wait until they hear what the Sauds are up to in Yemen.

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  8. Guarneri says:

    @Kathy:

    No, no, no. Get it right. Trump personally killed him, Kushner drank his blood and Ivanka made a stew. With favs beans. I heard it on CNN.

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  9. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @KM:

    This is man who’s lived in our borders, worked to promote our ideals such as government transparency and accountability and spoke up about abuses of power.

    It was only a matter of time before he started looking at trump and company, so of course they green lighted this operation.

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  10. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @KM & @Doug: While I get the outrage, governments–and highly placed government officials and/or their operatives–will always get away with murder unless their own governments decide to punish them. You can talk all you want about making Russia and KSA “pariah” nations, but they will effectively care about it as much as NK does. And they are much better situated economically to not care what the world thinks (Russian oil and natural gas still sell on the world market just fine despite the predations of Putin and outrage over them, for example). The only guys that the International Criminal Court ever gets hold of are those punks like Milosevic who discover they are too weak to protect themselves.

    So, even if Donald and Melania (and the GOP Congress as far as that goes) gave a rat’s ass about this–and I acknowledge that they don’t–what would they be able to do beyond close a few embassies and consulates–hurting both our own government and visitors to our country–and ramp up the outrage to “level 5?”

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  11. Kathy says:

    Unfortunately, the Saudis are rather canny in conducting these kind of savage repression.

    For one thing, Turkey in general, and Erdogan in particular, are by no means impartial when it comes to Saudi Arabia, so the Saudis can cast doubt on their claims. It doesn’t held they haven’t released much in the way of evidence.

    Next, the murder, if that’s what it was, took place in a consulate, which is sovereign soil of the nation it represents. Even if the Turks have iron-clad proof of murder, legally they lack jurisdiction to prosecute.

    Now, some reports say the Saudis invited Turkey’s authorities inside the consulate. Did they take them up on the offer? If so, did they search the whole consulate? Were they allowed to send in a crime scene forensics team to look for even traces of foul play? I very much doubt it. Such an invitation is a mere farce.

    Me, I’d not only recall ambassadors and pressure allies to do likewise, but would demand the Saudis shut down all diplomatic facilities, because we won’t tolerate them being used for murder or kidnapping. They can open an interests section in the embassy of any third country that would allow them.

    Really, this is barbaric behavior, in the fully pejorative sense of the term.

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  12. Lounsbury says:

    @Kathy:

    Next, the murder, if that’s what it was, took place in a consulate, which is sovereign soil of the nation it represents. Even if the Turks have iron-clad proof of murder, legally they lack jurisdiction to prosecute.

    This is not at all legally true, please do not repeat this erroneous myth.
    Consulates and Embassies are not sovereign soil, they are diplomatic concessions. Their special priviledges are a sovereign grant by the host sovereign. The Turkish Republic could perfectly well under international convention assert criminal violation of the diplomatic status and remove immuninity of the site, expelling the Missoin – it is not usually done as it’s a grave step and exposes one’s own diplomats, but there is no “jurisdictional” problem as to deliberate murder. There is a political problem.

    As the incoming Saudi team were almost certainly not coming in with diplomatic credentials to the Turkish Repubic itself there is also for them no likely immunity.

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  13. An Interested Party says:

    No, no, no. Get it right. Trump personally killed him, Kushner drank his blood and Ivanka made a stew. With favs beans. I heard it on CNN.

    Idiotic screeds aside, it’s obvious we now live in a world where despots can publicly assassinate their political enemies with no fear of any kind of consequences…certainly there’s no moral authority coming from an American president who acts envious of thugs like Putin and Duterte…

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