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Erdogan says Khashoggi’s death was a "vicious, violent murder" — but gives the Saudi Prince a pass

The Turkish president demands the Saudis responsible are returned to stand trial.

by David Gilbert
Oct 23 2018, 10:59am

Getty Images

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan promised Sunday to detail Jamal Khashoggi murder in "full nakedness."

He wasn't kidding.

Erdogan revealed to lawmakers in Ankara Tuesday how 15 Saudi nationals, including generals, forensics experts and intelligence officials, meticulously planned and executed a "vicious, violent murder."

After weeks of orchestrated leaks from the Turkish state, here was finally an official account of the killing.

The president revealed for the first time that three members of the Saudi team arrived in Istanbul a day before the murder to scout forest areas near the city.

He also noted how the Saudi team attempted to cover-up the crime by ripping the hard disk out of the consulate’s CCTV system, and how consulate staff rang Khashoggi at 11.50 a.m. to confirm his attendance ahead of his Oct. 2 appointment to collect documents relating to his marriage.

The Turkish leader stopped short of accusing the Saudi royal family of orchestrating the murder, but did call for an independent international investigation, demanding Riyadh return those responsible to stand trial in Turkey.

“I do not doubt the sincerity of King Salman,” Erdogan said during his parliamentary address. “That being said, independent investigation needs to be carried out. This is a political killing.”

He added that Khashoggi was “the victim of a gruesome murder.”

“Covering up such an atrocity will harm and hurt the consciousness of all humanity,” Erdogan said.

"As it is now clear, there was a murder — and it was clear from the beginning — then why was there a slurry of incoherent statements? And now there's official acknowledgement there was a murder, where is the body? Why do we still not have the body?" Erdogan asked.

He said the Saudi regime had taken a “significant step” by admitting the murder, but he laid out half a dozen questions he says Riyadh still had to answer:

  • Why had 15 people gathered in Istanbul on the day of the murder?
  • On whose orders were they sent?
  • Why has the consulate building not been opened right away?
  • When the murder was so clear, why have so many inconsistent statements been made?
  • Why is the body nowhere to be seen?
  • Who is the local collaborator that Saudi officials say took Khashoggi’s body?

Earlier, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Turkey had not shared intelligence with other countries but it would be willing to help an independent investigation by an international body such as the U.N. or the International Criminal Court.

Calls for an independent investigation continue to mount, as the Saudi's scramble to provide a remotely believable explanation for what happened in their consulate on October 2. On Monday, President Donald Trump dispatched CIA director Gina Haspel to Turkey to help with ongoing investigations there, and vowed to “get to the bottom of what happened.”

Trump said he is not happy with the Saudi explanation, but he's avoided laying the blame on Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (MBS), who's facing pressure for his alleged role in the murder plot. Over the weekend, Riyadh announced that it had fired General Ahmed al-Assiri, deputy head of Saudi intelligence and a close adviser to MBS. But the political offering didn’t seem to satisfy the prince’s critics.

Speaking in Indonesia Tuesday, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said that the Kingdom was committed to a “comprehensive investigation” into the death and had dispatched a team to Turkey.

The Crown Prince was due to speak Tuesday at an investment conference in Riyadh, known as “Davos in the Desert.” But he pulled out at the last-minute. The event has been overshadowed by high-profile pull-outs in the wake of the scandal, including U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde.

Softbank CEO Masayoshi Son became the latest executive to pull out of a speaking slot.

With investigations ongoing, Reuters reported new details of the killing Tuesday that are sure to further alarm the Saudi Prince's backers. Citing Turkish intelligence and a high-ranking source with access to Saudi Arabia's royal court, the news agency reported that Saud al-Qahtani, a close aide of MBS, coordinated Khashoggi’s assassination via Skype. Qahtani was reportedly streamed live into the room in the Saudi consulate, hurling insults at the journalist before telling one of the assassination squad: “Bring me the head of the dog.”

The Reuters report is based on information from an unnamed, high-ranking Arab source with access to intelligence and links to members of Saudi Arabia’s royal court, as well as a Turkish intelligence official who claims to have audio recordings of the murder.

READ: A “body double” left the Saudi consulate wearing Khashoggi’s clothes

With these lurid new details, Qahtani may end up being the fall guy in all of this, but his previous statements may haunt the kingdom.

“Do you think I make decisions without guidance? I am an employee and a faithful executor of the orders of my lord the king and my lord the faithful crown prince,” Qahtani tweeted last summer.

Qahtani is also accused of masterminding the arrest of hundreds of his country’s elite, and of organizing the brief kidnapping of Lebanese prime minister Saad al-Hariri in 2017.

Cover image: President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks about the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi during his weekly parliamentary address on October 23, 2018 in Ankara, Turkey. (Getty Images)