Will Racke, DCNF
Missing Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi was abducted and killed in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul by a team of agents dispatched on orders from the highest levels of the kingdom’s leadership, according to multiple reports.
The operatives murdered Khashoggi within two hours of his arrival at the consulate, then used a bone saw to dismember his body, The New York Times reported late Tuesday, citing a top Turkish official.
Khashoggi, whose writings have been deeply critical of kingdom leadership, was last seen on Oct. 2 as he walked through the front entrance of the Saudi consulate. He had gone there to obtain documentation for his upcoming marriage, according to his fiance, Hatice Cengiz.
In the following days, Turkish authorities speaking on the condition of anonymity began to leak details of the investigation into Khashogi’s disappearance to local media and prominent U.S. news outlets. What has emerged is a picture of a tightly coordinated operation, in which 15 agents arrived in Turkey on charter flights, assassinated the dissident journalist, disposed of his body and left the country within a matter of hours.
The allegations have sent shock waves through the diplomatic world and strained relations between Saudi Arabia and Turkey, the two most powerful and influential nations in the Middle East. They have also prompted a reassessment of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has been portrayed in Western media as a moderate social reformer.
Riyadh has denied any involvement in Khashoggi’s disappearance and claims the journalist left the consulate unharmed through a rear entrance. Kingdom officials have not offered any corroborating evidence, such as consulate surveillance video, to support that claim.
Meanwhile, Turkish security officials continue to divulge bits and pieces of the Khashoggi investigation that implicate the Saudi government. Investigators believe the hit team arrived from Riyadh on the morning of Oct. 2 on two private jets chartered from Riyadh-based Sky Prime Aviation Services, the Washington Post reported Tuesday, citing Turkish officials with knowledge of the investigation.
Turkish officials have also reportedly confirmed that most or all of the 15 men on the team are members of the Saudi government or security services. One was reportedly an autopsy expert who was sent to oversee the dismemberment of Khashoggi’s body, a Turkish official told TheNYT.
Thus far, the Turkish government has not publicly accused Saudi Arabia of killing Khashoggi. It is widely believed that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is wary of risking a diplomatic spat with a regional power over the issue of a missing journalist.
Even so, pro-government commentators in Turkey continue to lodge allegations that Riyadh ordered Khashoggi’s assassination.
“There is a video of the moment of him being killed,” Kemal Ozturk, a journalist close to the Erdogan government, said Tuesday in an interview on pro-government television.