Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi (59) was murdered inside his country’s Turkish consulate in Istanbul by what appears to be a hit squad.
While the details are being drip-fed by Ankara, the shock of the killing has left Riyadh with more than egg on its face, it has turned into a full-blown diplomatic crisis for the Middle Eastern country.
The likelihood that the Saudi Arabian consulate would have been used without the knowledge of high-ranking officials in Riyadh is obviously both unlikely and ludicrous, while the possibility exists that Khashoggi’s murder was ordered at the very highest levels of the kingdom.
That is the view of Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan who is hardly a paragon of freedom. He has overseen a clampdown on the freedom of expression in Turkey under the guise of cleaning up after a failed coup attempt, shutting down opposition newspapers and throwing journalists in jail.
At the same time this incident has created a challenge for the United States and other governments as they grapple with the strategic fallout.
Saudi Arabia is seen as an important ally to both the U.S. and Western Europe because of its oil supplies, and strategic position, while its apparent stability has also meant oil production from the biggest producer remains consistent.
Britain, France and Germany have warned Riyadh that nothing can justify the killing of the journalist inside Saudi Arabia’s Istanbul consulate and have demanded credible facts over his death.
“The threatening, attacking or killing of journalists, under any circumstances, is unacceptable and of utmost concern to our three nations,” the three countries said in a statement.
“Our thoughts are today with Mr Khashoggi’s family, his fiancée, and his friends – who have worried about him for weeks, and to whom we extend our most heartfelt condolences.”
The Saudi story has changed a number of times.
First officials feigned ignorance, saying they knew nothing about his disappearance.
When international anger failed to dissipate, Riyadh admitted Khashoggi was dead but he’d died in a fist fight at the consulate.
When that was scoffed at, the kingdom said he’d been killed inside the embassy by a rogue hit-squad and there was no sign of the body.
This all began when Khashoggi first visited the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on 28 September in order to pick up a document certifying that he had divorced his ex-wife in order to marry his Turkish partner, Hatice Cengiz.
Khashoggi and fiance Hatice Cengiz.
Officials there said he should return on 2 October when the documents would be ready.
Instead, he walked into the consulate only to be killed, and the Turkish government has released information suggesting he was tortured before he was murdered.
CCTV footage shows the journalist walking into the consulate at 13:14 local time in order to be ready for his appointment scheduled at 13:30.
He never left the building alive.
Khashoggi told Hatice Cengiz to wait outside the consulate as he thought he would not be long. After she was told he had left and she had obviously missed him, she returned the next day and waited a further ten hours before contacting the Turkish government.
So on the 20 October, the Saudi’s claimed Khashoggi had died in a fist fight at the consulate, apparently after he was put into a chokehold when he resisted attempts to return him to Saudi Arabia.
They said his body was rolled into a rug and given to a local who they called a “co-operator”, who disposed of his corpse.
However, even Saudi Arabia’s implacable ally the United States said this was not a likely scenario.
Then 18 Saudi nationals were dismissed along with intelligence chief Ahmad al-Assiri and senior aide to Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saud al-Qahtani who were blamed on what was called a botched rendition attempt.
Saudi intelligence chief Ahmad al-Assiri
In a bizarre twist, Ankara claimed Khashoggi received at least one phone call from prince bin Salman while the former newspaper editor waited in the consulate, and say mobile phone records back up their claim.
Turkish media have now identified at least 15 men thought to be part of the hit-squad that arrived in Istanbul on the day that Khashoggi was murdered. Both al-Assiri and al-Qahtani are also reported to have been in communication with the hit-squad throughout the operation.
Senior aide to Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saud al-Qahtani
Ankara claims that nine of the men arrived on a chartered flight aboard a private jet that had flown from Riyadh and landed at 03:15 on the 2 October, while six others arrived later in the day aboard a second private jet, or a commercial flight.
The hit-squad then checked into a hotel near the consulate and the men were transported from the hotel in at least two black vans. Turkey says the men then left the country on two private jets later in the day, and flew to Riyadh via Cairo and Dubai.
So far the Saudi’s have changed their story three times.
Ankara has warned that while the consulate is protected by the Vienna convention on diplomacy, it would not protect the Saudi’s from an extensive forensic investigation inside the building.
It took Riyadh two days before they finally allowed Turkish investigators into the consulate, but before then it was reported that a team of painters and cleaners had been seen entering the building.
They’d also entered the nearby High Commissioners’ quarters where the Turks say Khashoggi’s body was taken after the hit-squad had tortured and murdered him.
KASHOGGI WORKED FOR THE SAUDI GOVERNMENT
Jamal Kashoggi was a communication expert who worked for the Saudi Government at times before he ran into challenges when Crown Prince bin Salman began to act against Brotherhood members inside the Kingdom. Kashoggi was the deputy editor-in-chief of the Arab News, which was a government supporting newspaper.
Later he held the post of editor-in-chief of the Saudi Al-Watan newspaper but was fired twice for poking fun at ultra-hardline Muslim clerics in the kingdom.
The Saudi ambassador in London Prince Turki bin Faisal hired him after his was fired for the first time by the Al-Watan newspaper owners. Turki bin Faisal was also the former head of Saudi Arabia's General Intelligence Directorate.
And a son of King Faisal’s favourite wife, Prince Turki was a potential candidate for Crown Prince. One of his more controversial acts was meeting Osama bin Laden in 1998.
At this gathering, the Taliban leader agreed not to subvert Saudi Arabia, in exchange Riyadh would not bow to demands to extradite individuals or interfere in its financial collection through the United Arab Emirates and inside Saudi Arabia itself.
By August 31 2001 veteran intelligence officer Turki had already entered the diplomatic service and then been moved to the US from London.
Khashoggi moved with him to America.
KASHOGGI AND THE MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD
It was because the Saudi’s began arresting Muslim Brotherhood leaders compounded by Khashoggi’s belief that the Royal Family had attacked Yemen in error that the journalist finally fled Saudi Arabia.
The Brotherhood began in Egypt as a non-violent Sunni political Islamist group in 1928 and headed up by scholar Hassan al-Banna.
It promotes the conversion of society to Islamic principles and originally adopted an approach of gradualism. However, there are groups around the Middle East who identify with and are supported by the Brotherhood which espouse violence.
The Brotherhood’s slogan “Islam is the solution” and its doctrine of absolutism that lies at the heart of the Khashoggi contradiction.
In 2011, the Brotherhood won the Egyptian election through the ballot box but a military coup overthrew the democratically elected government, radicalising its followers in that country, and upsetting Khashoggi.
The Muslim Brotherhood is closely allied to Hamas which is deemed a terrorist organisation by America, while the Brotherhood itself is not.
The Arab Spring of 2011 gave the Brotherhood an opportunity to play a more central role in Middle Eastern politics particularly in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya.
Yet Brotherhood members were attacked by hardliners in Egypt during the Arab Spring for not being radical enough.
At the same time the Brotherhood are not an organisation that promotes equality between the sexes.
In 2011 the movement issued a statement condemning the role of women in the workplace without their husbands’ permission, saying it would cause the "complete disintegration of society”.
Khashoggi saw his movement as part of a long-suffering group who had been misconstrued and violated by dictatorships in the Middle East.
He also had veered into dangerous territory when he wrote an editorial in the Washington Post on June 25 2018 about women’s rights.
“Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman deserves consider credit for bringing the matter to a close the right way. While previous leaders were reluctant to take up the issue, he faced it head-on and did the right thing for Saudi Arabia. At the same time, I hope he will not forget the brave actions of each and every Saudi who individually worked hard for freedom and modernisation. He should order the release of Hathloul, Aziza al-Yousef, Eman al-Nafjan and the other brave women who campaigned for women’s right to drive. They should be allowed to finally witness the results of their tears and toil.”
It was Khashoggi’s columns in the Washington Post Newspaper that increased his visibility across the world, but also increased the danger that Saudi Arabian leaders who are notoriously thin-skinned when it comes to matters of honour would eventually act.
DIPLOMATIC MURDER MOST FOUL
It was his constant criticism of Crown Prince bin Salman that could have led to the ruler targeting him for special treatment at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul in 2018.
The apparently grisly details of Khashoggis death continue to be released by way of Turkey, which has political and strategic reasons to oppose Saudi Arabia.
Journalists around the world have been shocked by the manner in which Khashoggi was “disappeared” by what appears to be a Saudi death squad.
While Jamal Khashoggi himself was rooted in a tradition that does not support what Americans call “The First Amendment” and freedom of speech, the way in which Riyadh has dealt with the crisis is deeply concerning to all reporters and editors around the world.