Erdogan claims ‘savage’ Khashoggi killing planned in advance
Turkish president contradicts Saudi Arabia as Prince Mohammed appears at conference
Turkey’s president alleged journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed in a “savage” pre-planned murder at the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul, directly contradicting the Gulf kingdom’s account of the dissident’s death.
The accusations by Recep Tayyip Erdogan are the most direct challenge to Saudi rulers since Mr Khashoggi’s disappearance this month and included a demand for more answers from Riyadh, significantly raising the pressure on Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the country’s de facto leader.
The Turkish president’s speech put the spotlight back on Prince Mohammed after Saudi rulers claimed Mr Khashoggi was killed accidentally in a fist fight while visiting the consulate earlier this month.
“We have strong evidence in our hands that shows the murder wasn’t accidental but was instead the outcome of a planned operation,” Mr Erdogan told members of his parliamentary party. “Khashoggi was murdered in a savage manner.”
Turkish investigators found the killing was planned several days in advance, with a team of 15 Saudis arriving in Istanbul beginning the day before Mr Khashoggi’s disappearance, Mr Erdogan said. Three of the operatives scouted out a forest and a city 88km away, where police later began searching for Mr Khashoggi’s body, he added.
In a sign of the delicate diplomatic dynamics at play, Mr Erdogan stopped short of directly accusing the Saudi leadership of murder. But he raised a series of questions that he demanded Riyadh must answer.
“People who had qualifications related to the incident gathered in Istanbul,” he said. “Why did they come to Istanbul? What instructions were given to them and by whom? We need to know,” Mr Erdogan asked.
‘Whoever they are’
Saudi Arabia was taking measures to reveal the truth and would “hold to account those responsible whoever they are”, the government said on Tuesday, following a weekly cabinet meeting chaired by King Salman.
A central plank of Turkey’s strategy has been to persuade the US to join the international outrage against Riyadh, and Mr Erdogan’s brinkmanship comes at the same time Washington has begun to take a harder line against its Saudi allies.
Gina Haspel, CIA director, arrived in Turkey on Tuesday to discuss the findings with the Turkish president, and Mike Pence, the US vice-president, told the Washington Post that she would brief the White House “on what the Turks have assembled” when she returns.
Prince Mohammed and King Salman were pictured offering condolences to Mr Khashoggi’s son, who has reportedly been barred from leaving the kingdom, in photos distributed by the royal court on Tuesday that appeared part of an effort to address mounting condemnation.
Despite the pressure, Prince Mohammed made an appearance at the annual “Davos in the desert” investment conference that opened in Riyadh on Tuesday. He received a standing ovation from an assembled group of bankers, executives and Saudi leaders.
Mr Erdogan had previously maintained a careful public stance towards Riyadh. Turkish officials say he is reluctant to lead a lone charge against a regional heavyweight. Instead, the Turkish president has sanctioned the drip-feeding of details from the investigation to local and international media in the hope of stoking international outrage.
He welcomed the Saudi acknowledgment at the weekend that Mr Khashoggi had died, but he warned Riyadh’s attempt to blame rogue officers “will not satisfy us”. At the same time, he did not mention Prince Mohammed by name and did not repeat the lurid details of Mr Khashoggi’s killing.
Instead, the Turkish president ratcheted up the pressure by asking why the consulate was only opened to Turkish police days after the disappearance for an investigation, adding: “Why has the body still not been found?”
Mr Erdogan urged the Saudi leadership to “work hard to reveal the names of those involved from bottom to top”, and called for 18 people arrested in Saudi Arabia last week in connection with the killing to be put on trial in Turkey.
He made no mention of an audio recording that purportedly exists of the moment of Mr Khashoggi’s death.
Turkey’s caution has led to speculation that Ankara could seek some kind of financial deal that would minimise the embarrassment to Saudi Arabia while providing a boost to Turkey’s fragile economy.
The lira slid 3 per cent against the dollar in Tuesday trading, after Mr Erdogan’s alliance with an ultranationalist party collapsed ahead of hotly contested local elections next year.
But analysts increasingly believe that the Turkish president’s goal is much bigger, arguing that he is seeking to curb the power of Prince Mohammed and reshape regional power dynamics that have worked against Turkey and its allies. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2018