On the same day President Donald Trump expressed his trust in Saudi Arabia to conduct a thorough and prompt investigation into the alleged murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Turkish officials leaked gruesome new details around the alleged assassination.
On Wednesday, Turkish officials, citing audio taken inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul where Khashoggi was last seen two weeks ago, described an assassination that involved elaborate torture, featuring bone saws and music to drown out the anguished screams.
The latest information from Istanbul ratcheted up an international saga that has put added strain on U.S.-Saudi relations, and placed the president’s business interests with the Gulf nation under an intense spotlight.
As U.S., Saudi, and Turkish officials scramble to control the narrative, here's everything we know about the facts surrounding the alleged assassination of the U.S.-based Saudi dissident.
Turkey has audio of the murder … somehow
Much of the information we know about what happened after Khashoggi walked into the Saudi embassy Oct. 2 has surfaced from anonymous Turkish sources who claim to have audio from inside in the Saudi consulate, where Khashoggi went to obtain documents for his upcoming marriage.
But while Turkish officials have shared key details from the audio, they've been far less forthcoming in how exactly they obtained it in the first place. The pro-government Turkish news outlet Sabah initially reported that Khashoggi had recorded his own murder on his Apple Watch and uploaded it to the cloud. But experts quickly poked holes in that explanation, explaining that Khashoggi would have needed to manually upload the audio, which kept running while the Saudis sawed his body into pieces, and be within Bluetooth range of his cell phone, which he had left with his fiancée outside the consulate.
It’s far more likely, experts say, that Turkey was listening in, through its own bugs in the embassy.
The alleged assassins have ties to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman
The powerful prince (known as MBS) has robustly denied any knowledge of Khashoggi’s disappearance, but at least 11 of the 15 suspected assassins named by Turkish officials are linked to Saudi security services, the Washington Post reported. Four are believed to have close ties to Prince Mohammed and his security detail, according to the Times. Turkish officials also provided the Washington Post with passport scans of the 15 men they say were involved.
Prince Mohammed had long wanted to neutralize Khashoggi, and leaked intercepts show the U.S. knew he was working on a plan to lure the Post columnist from his home in Virginia to Saudi Arabia before the alleged killing in Istanbul.
Several men believed to be part of the assassination team have links to the prince (known as MBS), according to new information provided by Turkish officials, including Salah Muhammad al-Tubaigy, a senior official who would not have been involved without some sort of high-ranking approval, and Khalid Aedh Alotaibi, a member of the Saudi Royal Guard, who traveled with Prince Mohammed to the U.S. this year.
Tubaigy’s presence also poses a significant problem for Saudi Arabia, which is reportedly considering putting out a statement calling Khashoggi’s death the result of a botched interrogation, since his training in autopsies suggests the team expected to leave with a body.
The two private jets the team used to fly in and out of Turkey are also tied to the royal family, which seized the charter company in a crackdown on Saudi disloyalists last year.
The alleged killers had a murder soundtrack
The whole thing took just minutes, according to new details from the New York Times. An unnamed source who listened to the recording told the London-based outlet Middle East Eye that the assassination prompted “horrendous screams” that were heard by a witness on another floor.
The same source said the audio shows the Saudis had one goal: to kill Khashoggi, which tracks with the New York Times report that the team seized Khashoggi as soon as he entered the room and immediately began beating and torturing him.
"The consul himself was taken out of the room. There was no attempt to interrogate him. They had come to kill him,” a source told the Middle East Eye. (According to the AP, citing the newspaper Yeni Safek, the consul told the killers to “do it outside,” so that he would not get in trouble, prompting one member of the team to threaten him, saying, “If you want to live when you come back to Arabia, shut up.”)
Once Khashoggi was laid out on the table, al-Tubaigy — a forensic doctor with a high-level government position — took over with a bone saw. He reportedly had music to relax him cued for the event, according to the New York Times, and recommended the others in the room put on headphones and follow his lead.
The Saudis cleaned up before they allowed authorities to search the consulate
On Wednesday, a forensic team searched the consul’s residence, where the murder allegedly took place.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan told reporters Tuesday that Turkish authorities recovered some evidence during a nine-hour search of the embassy, despite an apparent clean-up attempt by the Saudis that included painting and toxic chemicals.
"My hope is that we can reach conclusions that will give us a reasonable opinion as soon as possible, because the investigation is looking into many things such as toxic materials and those materials being removed by painting them over," Erdogan said, according to the AP.
The Saudis' story keeps changing
The Saudis' official story is that Khashoggi left the consulate on his own not long after he arrived, but that his exit was not recorded because the cameras stopped working. But on Monday, CNN reported that the Saudis were preparing a report that admitted Khashoggi was killed but that it was the result of a botched interrogation carried out without MBS's authorization.
The kingdom has since promised Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that they are conducting a thorough investigation and plan to punish anyone involved, a narrative Pompeo endorsed after his visit to Saudi Arabia on Tuesday.
Around the same time Pompeo set off on his emergency tour, the kingdom deposited $100 million in American accounts as part of a deal brokered back in August to stabilize Syria.
Though Trump has vowed to get to the bottom of Khashoggi’s disappearance, he’s appeared more concerned with the business end of things, repeatedly citing the value of the kingdom’s multibillion-dollar purchase of U.S. weapons.
"I don't like the concept of stopping an investment of $110 billion into the United States, because you know what they're going to do, they're going to take that money and spend it in Russia or China," Trump said last week. "If it turns out to be as bad as it might be, there are certainly other ways of handling the situation."
Trump has largely built on the same argument this week, telling reporters Wednesday that “we need Saudi Arabia,” before listing off all the reasons why.
His loud support for the kingdom follows a phone call with King Salman Monday, in which afterwards Trump said he believes Salman wasn’t involved and thinks a group of “rogue killers” might instead be responsible.
"It wasn't like there was a question in his mind. The denial was very strong," Trump said of his phone call with Salman. “The king firmly denied any knowledge of it. He didn't really know, maybe. I don't want to get into his mind, but it sounded to me like maybe these could have been rogue killers. Who knows.”
Trump’s sympathetic view is shared by members of his family, too. After Khashoggi’s disappearance was reported, Donald Trump Jr. began pedaling conspiracy theories on Twitter, suggesting Khashoggi — a member of Saudi Arabia’s elite (and a cousin of Princess Diana’s doomed lover, Dodi Fayed) — had terrorist sympathies.
“I didn’t realize until yesterday that Jamal Khashoggi was the author of this notorious 1988 Arab News article of him tooling around Afghanistan with Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda co-founder Abdullah Azzam. He’s just a democrat reformer journalist holding a RPG with jihadists,” Trump Jr. retweeted Saturday.
Cover: People hold signs during a protest at the Embassy of Saudi Arabia about the disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)