After weeks of denials and shifting narratives on the whereabouts of missing journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the government of Saudi Arabia has finally admitted that Khashoggi is dead. Khashoggi entered the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on October 2 and was never seen again. Saudi officials now say Khashoggi was killed in a “fistfight” inside the consulate and that 18 Saudis had been arrested in connection with the death.
Turkish officials still maintain that Khashoggi was tortured, murdered and dismembered by a squad of 15 Saudi hit men shortly after entering the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. They claim that audio and video recordings show Saudi officials used a bone saw to dismember Khashoggi’s body. They maintain that it was a premeditated hit carried out by a squad of hit men and that one of the men was a forensic specialist specifically brought in to conceal the crime.
CNN aired CCTV footage obtained from the Turkish authorities, showing the Saudi agent Mustafa Mohammed Madani, a member of the 15-man team, leaving the consulate by the back door. Madani was dressed in Khashoggi’s clothes, aside for mismatched shoes. He had also put on a fake beard that resembled Khashoggi’s facial hair, his glasses and his Apple Watch. Madani, who was of similar age, height, and build to Khashoggi, left the consulate from its back door and was later seen at Istanbul’s Blue Mosque, where he went to a public bathroom and changed back to his own clothes and discarded Khashoggi’s clothes.
The body double footage bolstered Turkish claims that the Saudis always intended either to kill Khashoggi or move him back to Saudi Arabia. Anonymous Turkish officials believe that Madani was brought to Istanbul to act as a body double and that “You don’t need a body double for a rendition or an interrogation. Our assessment has not changed since October 6. This was a premeditated murder, and the body was moved out of the consulate.”
An anonymous Saudi official claims Khashoggi had been threatened with kidnapping by Maher Mutreb and when he resisted, he was restrained with a chokehold, which killed him. Madani then left the consulate through the back door dressed in Khashoggi’s clothes. Khashoggi’s body was rolled up in a carpet and given to a “local cooperator” for disposal. The official claims it was Mutreb who overstepped by threatening a kidnapping and accidental killing. The team then filed a false report indicating they let Khashoggi leave after he warned of Turkish police interference. The official provided Saudi documents indicating the operation was part of a wider initiative to bring expatriate dissidents home and the original plan was to keep Khashoggi in an Istanbul safe house for a period where he would be persuaded to return home or eventually released. Many have been skeptical of their claims and still believe the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the hit.
Saudi officials again changed their story after Saudi Arabia’s attorney general said that evidence shared by Turkish officials suggests that the killing was premeditated. They now admit that the killing was premeditated and carried out by a rogue team, still maintaining that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had no prior knowledge of the killing. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has directly accused Saudi Arabia of the premeditated murder, calling it a political killing orchestrated by Saudi officials. Erdogan urged Saudi Arabia to disclose who ordered the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, as well as the identity of a “local cooperator” involved in the murder plot. He also called for the Saudi suspects to be tried in Turkey. Erdogan said Turkey has more information about the case than it has shared so far, suggesting he could release more details if the Saudis refuse to reveal vital information.