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Jamal Khashoggi: Turkey’s Erdogan says ‘savage’ murder of journalist was premeditated

‘All those from the highest level to the lowest level will be highlighted and will get the punishment they deserve’

Borzou Daragahi
,Tom Barnes
Tuesday 23 October 2018 11:51 BST
Turkish President Erdogan calls on Saudi Arabia to 'bring forward those responsible' for 'savage murder' of Jamal Khashoggi

Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused Saudi Arabia of being behind the “savage” premeditated murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi, in a highly anticipated speech that lacked few new details or revelations but nonetheless keeps pressure on Riyadh and its embattled Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Speaking in Ankara before parliament on Tuesday, Mr Erdogan asked why the journalist’s body has still not been found and urged against a cover up by calling on Saudi authorities to reveal those, regardless of their rank, who planned to kill the writer. He also demanded the handing over of 18 Saudi operatives who flew from Riyadh to Istanbul in the hours preceding Khashoggi’s murder.

“All those from the highest level to the lowest level will be highlighted, and will get the punishment they deserve,” Mr Erdogan said, insisting that diplomatic immunity not be used as “armour” for the murder, and that any suspects be tried in Turkish courts.

He additionally demanded Saudi Arabia reveal the identity of a “local collaborator” who allegedly took Khashoggi’s body from the Saudi consulate in Istanbul and disposed of it.

“All evidence gathered shows that Jamal Khashoggi was the victim of a savage murder,” Mr Erdogan said. “To cover up such a savagery would hurt the human conscience.”

Mr Erdogan confirmed many pieces of evidence leaked unofficially to local and international media over the last three weeks but broke little new ground.

Among his revelations, he said three men close to the consulate arrived in Istanbul from Riyadh a day before Khashoggi’s murder and travelled to remote, wooded areas on the outskirts of Istanbul in what Turks suspect was a reconnaissance mission to locate places to hide a body.

“It was obviously a scouting mission,” said Hatice Han Er, an Istanbul criminologist and researcher. “They weren’t going to plan for a picnic. These were very secluded areas where you would be able to easily dump a body or body parts.”

“They weren’t going to plan for a picnic. These were very secluded areas where you would be able to easily dump a body or body parts.” 

Hatice Han Er, criminologist

Mr Erdogan also said that the hard drive storing the consulate’s security camera footage was removed, and that consular officials called Khashoggi just 85 minutes before his scheduled 2 October arrival at the facility to confirm he was coming.

Khashoggi’s fiancee, waiting for him outside the facility, called a close associate of Mr Erdogan in the hours after he went missing, sparking the Turkish investigation. The president, who often shoots from the hip in speeches laden with emotion, likely feels a personal affinity for the victim, who was of Turkish as well as Arabic ethnic origins and planned to marry a Turk.

Sahar Zeki, activist and friend of Khashoggi, attaches a picture of the writer on the barriers blocking the road to Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul on Tuesday (AP)

But geopolitical considerations have overlaid his government’s response to the killing and his closely watched speech on Tuesday.

Turkey’s relations with the Saudi leadership soured after the two countries found themselves on opposite sides of the coup that toppled the Islamist government in Egypt in 2013 in the tumultuous aftermath of the Arab Spring uprisings. They took a further dive with the ascent of Crown Prince Mohammed, who has tried to isolate Turkey’s ally Qatar, tightened the crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, and threatened to heighten tensions in the region with a full-throttled confrontation against Iran.

In his speech, Mr Erdogan spoke warmly of his communications with Saudi King Salman, suggesting a strong desire to improve ties with the Kingdom, while at the same using the Khashoggi case to push for regional shifts in power favourable to Ankara.

“Ten years years ago Turkey and Saudi Arabia had good, cooperative relations, partnership, friendship all over the region and policies they developed together,” said Vehbi Baysan, a specialist in Ankara-Gulf relations at Istanbul’s Ibn Haldun University. “After the coup in Egypt, it all went bad.”

Perhaps as notable for what was included in the speech was what was excluded. Though he spoke cordially of King Salman, Mr Erdogan made no mention of Crown Prince Mohammed, the Kingdom’s de facto ruler and a hasty 33-year-old man whom some US and Turkish officials suspect of ordering the operation. Mr Erdogan also has long sought to weaken or even sideline the crown prince as a way to sabotage the Saudi alliance with the United Arab Emirates, the Egyptian autocracy and the administration of Donald Trump.

“The removal of someone in the line of succession as anti-Turkey as Crown Prince Mohammed would definitely be an added benefit in the future,” said Yusuf Erim, Turkey analyst for TRT World, the state-owned broadcaster. “It’s not like Turkey can remove him. He’ll be removed if he’s found guilty and international pressure removes him.”

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attends the Future Investment Initiative conference in Riyadh on Tuesday (AP)

Also unmentioned was any confirmation of the existence of recordings that capture Khashoggi’s final moments, and which have been discussed by unnamed Turkish, Arab and US officials. Most likely, Mr Erdogan is holding onto the recordings to maintain leverage over both the Saudi leadership and the Trump White House, which needs the support of Saudi Arabia for its bid to confront Iran. Analysts close to the Erdogan government have suggested the president is holding onto the tape as a veiled threat that Turkish authorities have more dirt on Riyadh.

Mr Erim speculated that the recordings might be so key to the criminal investigation that Mr Erdogan wants to avoid mentioning them. “We have an ongoing murder trial and it’s illegal to give out evidence until there is an indictment,” he said. “Talking about the evidence would destroy the confidentiality and strength of the case the prosecutor is building.”

The crown prince and King Salman offered condolences to some of Khashoggi's family members in Riyadh on Tuesday, the Saudi state news agency SPA reported. Photos released by SPA showed his son, Salah bin Jamal Khashoggi, meeting with Mohammed bin Salman. A source close to the Khashoggi family has told The Independent that Salah is under a travel ban and cannot leave the Kingdom.

Saudis admit Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist and outspoken critic of the crown prince, was killed by a squad of 15 men dispatched by Riyadh but describe it as a rogue rendition operation that went wrong.

Surveillance appears to show a “body double” being used as a decoy in a bid to cover their tracks. A man dressed in Khashoggi’s clothes was caught in security camera footage, leaked to Turkish media, walking out of the consulate after the journalist’s death.

Jeremy Hunt says Saudi version of Khashoggi events is 'not credible'

The release of the video coincided with reports by a pro-government Turkish newspaper that a member of the crown prince’s entourage made four calls from the consulate to his boss’s office in Riyadh around the time of the killing.

Saudi authorities say they have so far arrested 18 people in connection with the death, while a senior security official and a close aide to the crown prince have also been dismissed. Saudi critics allege the Riyadh narrative is designed to shield Crown Prince Mohammed from any potential ramifications over the case.

Ms Han Er, the criminologist, said the operation had all the trappings of a murder and botched cover up that was flawed and hurried from the start. “It was very, very amateur,” she said. “They made a lot of mistakes, first in choosing the consulate to commit a crime like this. Maybe it could could have been successful if it was back home in Saudi. Even the number of people to undertake this kind of murder I find to be very amateur.”

The murder has badly damaged Saudi Arabia’s reputation and prompted widespread international condemnation, including a joint statement issued by the UK, France and Germany on Sunday demanding “credible facts” from Saudi officials over the killing.

Britain has said Mr Erdogan’s statement on Tuesday reiterated that many questions remain over Khashoggi’s killing.

“President Erdogan’s statement this morning underscores the fact there remain questions which only the Saudis have the answers to,” Prime Minister Theresa May’s spokesman said.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has frozen Berlin’s arms sales to the Gulf nation until the matter has been resolved.

President Donald Trump, who previously said he believed Riyadh’s version of events, has now also said the US wants answers.

“The plane carrying CIA Director Gina Haspel has landed in Turkey. Haspel has arrived in Turkey to discuss the case of journalist Jamal Khashoggi,” the website of privately owned CNN Turk reported.

Meanwhile, many dignitaries have chosen to stay away from the Future Investment Initiative forum, a major trade conference Saudi Arabia is staging this week.

Additional reporting by agencies

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