Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan agreed Thursday to a joint investigation with Saudi Arabia into the disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi — despite claims by Turkish officials that they have recordings of the dissident’s murder within the Saudi consulate.
Erdogan said he would establish a “joint working group” to probe the whereabouts of Khashoggi, who has not been seen since he entered the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2 to collect documents for his marriage.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and members of his regime earlier this week labeled accusations that Khashoggi was murdered inside the consulate as “baseless,” claiming he left the building of his own accord.
Erdogan has called on Riyadh to prove their claims by releasing CCTV footage of Khashoggi exiting the consulate. They have yet to do so.
Amid news of the joint investigation, grisly details about Khashoggi reported assassination poured out Thursday.
Turkish officials told their U.S. counterparts that they have audio and video recordings that prove the journalist was killed, according to the Washington Post for whom Khashoggi was a columnist.
“You can hear how he was interrogated, tortured and then murdered,” said one person familiar with the recordings.
Prince Mohammed bin Nawaf al Saud, Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the U.K., told the BBC Friday he is "concerned" about Khashoggi but said it was “premature” to comment at this stage.
Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. are pushing for an investigation. President Donald Trump said Thursday he is concerned about the situation, but insisted relations with Saudi Arabia remain “excellent” and the crisis will not jeopardize Washington’s lucrative arms sales to the Kingdom.
Elsewhere, Western business leaders and tech executives are protesting Saudi Arabia’s alleged actions by halting investments and distancing themselves from high profile projects run by the regime.
What happened to Khashoggi?
What we know for certain is that Khashoggi entered the embassy on Oct. 2 while his fiancee waited outside. She claims he never returned. In recent days multiple Turkish officials have spoken to local and international media outlets claiming they have evidence Khashoggi was killed.
One official gave a specific account Thursday, telling Middle East Eye that Khashoggi was dragged from the consul general's office inside the Saudi consulate before being brutally murdered by two men who then cut up his body.
The remains were then reportedly taken in a black van from the consulate to the consul general's home just over a mile away.
Another Turkish official said: “We know when Jamal was killed, in which room he was killed and where the body was taken to be dismembered. If the forensic team is allowed in, they know exactly where to go.”
Authorities in Istanbul are reportedly considering digging up the consul general's garden looking for remains.
Who might have killed him?
Turkish newspapers have identified an assassination squad of 15 men who they claim traveled from Riyadh on the morning Khashoggi disappeared via two separate planes. The men, having checked into two hotels in Istanbul, then laid in wait for Khashoggi to enter the consulate.
The squad later left the country on flights to Cairo and Dubai, before eventually returning to the Saudi capital. Video footage of the men arriving at Istanbul airport and checking in to their hotels was broadcast on Turkish TV earlier this week.
The Saudi-owned al-Arabiya TV network tried to dismiss the 15 suspects as “tourists” — echoing the Kremlin line after the U.K. identified two Russian suspects in the Skripal poisoning case.
What’s been the international reaction?
There has been a strong and widespread backlash against Saudi Arabia in the wake of the disappearance — not only from governments but companies, businessmen and lobbyists who work with the regime.
According to the New York Times, one of the U.S. 10 lobbying firms that represent the Saudi government — the Harbour Group — has dropped it as a client, and others are considering following suit.
British businessman Sir Richard Branson has halted talks over $1 billion Saudi investment in Virgin space firms, saying if the allegations are accurate it “would clearly change the ability of any of us in the West to do business with the Saudi government.”
Earlier this week, the Saudi government’s futuristic mega-city project called Neom announced a glittering new board of directors, including many well-known names from Silicon Valley.
Subsequently, a number of the names have distanced themselves from the project. Apple’s design chief Jony Ive said his name should never have been there in the first place, as did Dan Doctoroff, who runs Sidewalk Lab, a Google company focused on urban innovation.
Former EU Commissioner Neelie Kroes, the former U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, and Y Combinator's Sam Altman have all announced they are suspending their participation in the board.
There have also been withdrawals from this month’s Future Investment Initiative conference, known as “Davos in the Desert,” at which Bin Salman is due to speak. The New York Times, the Economist and LA Times have all withdrawn their support, as have numerous attendees including journalist Andrew Ross Sorkin, Uber Chief Executive Dara Khosrowshahi, Viacom CEO Bob Bakish and Arianna Huffington, who was on the conference’s advisory board.
Secretary of the Treasury Steve Mnuchin said he is still attending the event, but may pull out if more information comes to light.
Cover image: A man holds a poster of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi during a protest organized by members of the Turkish-Arabic Media Association at the entrance to Saudi Arabia's consulate on October 8, 2018 in Istanbul, Turkey. (Chris McGrath/Getty Images)