Candid tape, black van and bone saw? What we know about Khashoggi case so far
Jamal Khashoggi was once close to the Saudi elites but fled the kingdom last year in fear of prosecution. In his Washington Post column, the journalist wrote scathing pieces on the Saudi government and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, gaining a reputation as one of his chief critics overseas.
Journalist vanishes in broad daylight
On October 2, Khashoggi entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey to collect a document certifying his divorce and never returned. His fiancee Hatice Cengiz waited for 11 hours in front of the building. She couldn't reach the journalist since he had earlier handed over his phone as part of the security requirements in the consulate. "When we arrived at the consulate, he went right in. He told me to alert the Turkish authorities if I did not hear from him soon," Cengiz recalled.
Turkey blames the Saudis for murder
Ankara quickly pinned the blame for Khashoggi's demise on Riyadh. Turkish officials claimed that the dissident was murdered by a 15-man Saudi hit-team, which was allegedly flown to Istanbul on two private jets from Saudi Arabia and left the next day. Several members of the purported assassination squad were linked with Mohammad bin Salman's elite close-protection unit.
Turkish media published CCTV footage showing Khashoggi entering the consulate and a black Mercedes van leaving its premise shortly afterwards. Another video showed the alleged assassins moving around the airport. The officials also claimed they had obtained an audio recording of the journalist's murder, which may have been captured by the journalist's Apple Watch.
Kingdom denies allegations & promises cooperation
Riyadh has dismissed all accusations. Rumors of the kingdom ordering Khashoggi's murder are "lies and baseless allegations," Interior Minister Prince Abdel Aziz bin Saud bin Nayef stated. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman insisted that the country has "nothing to hide," and promised that Saudi Arabia will help Turkey in investigating the journalist's fate.
Gruesome details keep emerging
The story got even darker after numerous Turkish media published gruesome reports detailing the alleged final moments of Khashoggi's life. According to the reports, the journalist was drugged, had his fingers cut off while being interrogated, and was finally decapitated by Saudi agents.
Turkish officials said that the Saudi consul could be heard telling the agents to "do it somewhere else outside or I will be in trouble," while Khashoggi screamed and was told to "shut up" if he wanted to make to Saudi Arabia alive.
Meanwhile, other reports suggested that the head of the Saudi forensic unit at its security department dismembered Khashoggi with a bone saw while he was still alive. "When I do this job, I listen to music. You should do [that] too," Salah Muhammad al-Tubaigy was recorded as saying, the Turkish source told the London-based outlet Middle East Eye. The source said that there was no attempt to interrogate the journalist, and the Saudi agents moved straight for the kill.
Turkish forensic team searches the consulate
On Monday, Turkish police and a forensic team spent nine hours sweeping the building for clues and DNA samples. After the search was done, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan suggested that the Saudi officials had tampered with the evidence, saying that some materials were "removed by painting over them."
Turkish diplomatic sources told the media that police might next try to search the Saudi consul's home. The investigators also started checking the forest on the outskirts of Istanbul for possible traces of Khashoggi.
'Suspicious car accident'
Turkish paper Yeni Safak, which previously reported on the Khashoggi case, wrote about another twist on Friday: one of the alleged Saudi 'hit-team' members died in a traffic incident in Riyadh. The man was Meshal Saad al-Bostani, a lieutenant in the Saudi Royal Air Force, who was believed to be filmed in Istanbul Airport the day Khoshaggi disappeared.
Excess of force mixed with incompetence?
CNN and the New York Times, citing anonymous sources, reported that the Saudis are considering presenting Khashoggi's death as "interrogation gone wrong," and blaming it on the incompetence of their intelligence operatives.
Outcry & fallout
Khashoggi's disappearance has sparked a rare display of self-examination in the US media and the halls of Congress, with lawmakers and journalists alike calling on Washington to reconsider its cozy relations with Riyadh. While Trump has signaled that he's not interested in ending lucrative US weapons exports to the kingdom, the president has nonetheless vowed that the Saudis would face "severe punishment" if found to be responsible for Khashoggi's abduction and murder.
And while mutual hatred of Iran may for the foreseeable future necessitate an alliance of convenience between the US and Saudi Arabia, reports suggest that Washington is running out of patience with its Middle Eastern ally. During a meeting with the Crown Prince in Riyadh earlier this week, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reportedly warned the Saudi leader that he had 72 hours to complete his "transparent" probe into the incident, adding that if he didn't "own" the situation there would be significant backlash on the international stage.
The uneasiness exhibited by the Saudi-friendly Trump administration marks an incredible turning point in US-Saudi relations. For years, the Saudis have acted with impunity in Yemen, with only murmurs of concern issued by the State Department. Khashoggi's disappearance has forced Washington to take a stand against alleged Saudi crimes and human rights abuses. If Trump chooses to express this new moral fortitude with sanctions, all hell could break loose. Using oil prices and its valued weapons contracts as leverage, the Saudis could inflict serious damage on the US and even the global economy. It's now a game of chicken, egged on by growing public outrage.
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