President Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened Sunday to explode Turkish-Saudi relations by making public lurid details of Jamal Khashoggi’s gruesome death at the hands of a Saudi assassination squad.
Erdogan said during a TV address that the details of the journalist’s death “will be revealed in full nakedness.” He promised: “On Tuesday, I will tell this very differently in my parliamentary group speech.”
The Turkish president's comments came hours after Saudi Arabia again changed its explanation for how Khashoggi was killed, shifting from a fistfight turned deadly to the actions of a “rogue operation.” More than a dozen Saudi men, including some of the Saudi prince's personal security detail, reportedly arrived at the embassy the same day Khashoggi did.
The Saudis continue to insist that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (known as MBS) did not order the killing, but the kingdom's facing mounting pressure from the U.S. and Europe to better explain what happened at the Saudi embassy in Istanbul on Oct. 2.
Even President Donald Trump, who's vocalized his support for the crown prince, conceded over the weekend that the Saudis’ explanations for the death had been “all over the place,” adding: “Obviously, there’s been deception and there’s been lies.” His patience may soon be tested by members of his own party, who have joined with Democrats in ratcheting up the pressure on the Saudi kingdom and its powerful prince.
The Khashoggi scandal has placed an unwanted focus on the Saudi regime, with the outcry from members of the international community threatening the country’s economy and the leadership of its young, de facto leader.
What is Saudi Arabia saying now?
After two weeks of dismissing claims they had killed Khashoggi, the kingdom admitted Friday that the journalist had indeed died inside the consulate.
Saudi officials said the journalist was accidentally strangled during a brawl with intelligence agents. But that story was met with widespread skepticism, so the regime tried a new explanation Sunday, with Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir telling Fox News the death was the result of a “rogue operation.”
Al-Juberi insisted the crown prince had not ordered the assassination and claimed it had taken the leader two weeks to find out what happened.
“The individuals who did this did it outside the scope of their authority,” he said. “There obviously was a tremendous mistake made, and what compounded the mistake was the attempt to try to cover up. That is unacceptable in any government.”
Saudi Arabia has detained 18 officials as part of an investigation, with two close aides to the crown prince losing their jobs.
Members of the Saudi royal family were initially relaxed about Khashoggi's disappearance and were surprised by the international reaction to his death, sources told The Wall Street Journal. Speaking to White House adviser Jared Kushner a week after the disappearance, the prince reportedly asked why there was so much outrage.
King Salman and the prince called Khashoggi’s son to express their condolences, according to the Saudi Press Agency.
But claims the young leader knew nothing about the operation continue to be questioned.
Republican Sen. Bob Corker, of Tennessee, blamed the crown prince directly over the weekend. “Do I think he did it? Yes, I think he did it,” Corker told CNN’s “State of the Union.”
Republican Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) shared Corker's position, calling the Saudi explanations insulting and saying MBS is "gonna have to be replaced." Paul added that sanctions might not be enough, and mentioned the arms deal as another possible target for the Senate.
Their GOP colleague Lindsey Graham, of South Carolina, said last week: “Nothing happens in Saudi Arabia without the crown prince knowing it.”
Trump, however, told reporters at a Saturday rally that “it’s possible” the prince did not know about the murder.
What will Erdogan reveal?
Within days of Khashoggi’s disappearance, Turkish authorities were briefing media outlets about the details of Khashoggi's last moments.
According to Turkish reports, an assassination squad of 15 Saudi officials lay in wait for Khashoggi, before beating, torturing, killing and dismembering him inside the diplomatic mission.
The location of his remains is not known, but Turkish officials have searched the consul general’s residence, as well as a woodland area and a farm near Istanbul.
Turkish authorities reportedly have audio recordings of Khashoggi’s death, including comments made by one of his killers while they were dismembering his body. It's unclear how they obtained these recordings.
The pro-government Turkish newspaper Yeni Safak claimed Monday that the head of the assassination squad, Maher Abdulaziz Mutreb, made four phone calls to the Crown Prince’s private secretary Bader Al Asaker on Oct. 2 from inside the consulate.
Khashoggi was a personal friend of Erdogan and while the president has not directly accused the Saudis of murder, it appears Riyadh’s mishandling of the scandal has handed Erdogan an opportunity to undermine Saudi Arabia’s position in the region.
The pull out continues
Since the Khashoggi scandal broke, Saudi Arabia has become toxic. Market data released Sunday shows that foreigners sold off more than $1 billion worth of Saudi stocks in the last week.
An investment conference — known as “Davos in the desert” — is being held in Riyadh later this week, but dozens of high profile politicians and business leaders have pulled out in protest at events, including U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.
The treasury official will travel to Riyadh Monday to take part in a meeting with officials from the Saudi government and other Middle Eastern allies to discuss combating terrorist funding.
Trump has repeatedly said he does not want to jeopardize a lucrative arms deal between Washington and Riyadh but other Western countries have begun scaling back their ties.
Germany announced Saturday it is suspending arms exports to Saudi Arabia in the wake of the murder, with Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland criticizing Saudi excuses, saying they “lack consistency and credibility” and that the killers “must face justice.”
There is no indication yet that sanctions will be imposed, but Chancellor Angela Merkel said Sunday the ban would remain until all questions are answered. “I agree with those who say that arms exports, which are already limited, cannot happen given the circumstances,” Merkel said.
Cover image: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan gets into the presidential car after his arrival at Tegel airport in Berlin, Germany on September 27, 2018. (Emmanuele Contini/NurPhoto via Getty Images)