Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi Arabian national and journalist who published several columns in The Washington Post that were critical of the repressive Saudi Arabian government, disappeared during a visit to the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, last week. He is the apparent victim of a coordinated attack by a Saudi hit squad, but concrete answers have escaped investigators after a series of suspicious moves by the Saudi consulate, as well as a lack of resolve within the Turkish government.
CNN reports that Khashoggi entered the Saudi consulate last Tuesday to obtain documents required for him to marry his fiancee, who is Turkish. She waited outside for him, but he never came out.
Turkish authorities have reported to several news outlets that they believe Khashoggi was killed inside the consulate, and that the hit was ordered and orchestrated by “the highest levels of the royal court” in Saudi Arabia. U.S. intelligence officials have confirmed that they had previously intercepted communications from Saudi officials to capture and silence Khashoggi, though it is not clear if they had ever warned him.
The Saudi consulate told its Turkish staff to take the day off on Tuesday, citing an “important international meeting” that would require their absence.
Turkish investigators have identified the arrival of 15 men on two private planes from Riyadh the day of Khashoggi’s disappearance. The two executive jets belonged to a Riyadh-based company that does government contracting for the Saudis, and several of the 15-man contingent were Saudi government officials. The first flight arrived at 3 a.m. the day Khashoggi disappeared. Investigators say that the 15 men visited the Saudi consulate the day of Khashoggi’s disappearance and were present when he arrived.
A Turkish investigator described the operation as “quick and complex,” and that Khashoggi’s alleged murder occurred within two hours of his arrival at the consulate. The investigator contends that the Saudi agents “dismembered (Khashoggi’s) body with a bone saw they brought for that purpose.”
The investigators believe that security footage was removed from the consulate and taken back to Saudi Arabia on the plane along with Khashoggi’s remains.
The Turkish newspaper Sabah published photos of the 15 Saudi men taken from airport security cameras and identified all of them. It is reported that the Saudis narrowly escaped Turkish authorities, who were searching the airport when the second plane took off on its return trip to Saudi Arabia.
The Saudi royal family has categorically denied any involvement in the disappearance of Khashoggi. They claim that Khashoggi left the consulate the same day that he entered.
Business Insider reports that on Saturday, the Saudi consulate offered journalists a tour of the six-story building by Saudi Consul General Mohammad al-Otaibi, who told reporters that while the building was equipped with security cameras, none of them recorded Khashoggi either entering or departing the building. However, a CCTV image has been circulated showing Khashoggi entering the consulate just before 2 p.m. There is no footage of him departing.
Meanwhile, despite the contradictory reports from Turkish investigators, the Turkish government has taken a soft stance toward Saudi involvement in the matter. Turkey has deep trade ties with Saudi Arabia and seems leery of Khashoggi’s disappearance developing into an international incident. This divide in intentions may explain why investigators are leaking information to the media rather than through official channels. Yasin Aktay, an advisor to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, claims “the Saudi state is not blamed here” despite his ties to Khashoggi and his admission that “my sense is that he has been killed… in the consulate.” Western nations, including the United States, are pushing Saudi Arabia to account for Khashoggi’s whereabouts.