Erdogan ratchets up pressure on Saudis over Khashoggi killing

Turkish president trails revealing statement for Tuesday about slain dissident journalist

US president Donald Trump said on Thursday it "certainly looks" like US-based Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi is dead. Video: Reuters


Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey turned up the pressure on Saudi Arabia, promising on Sunday to reveal everything his country knows about the killing of Jamal Khashoggi inside the Istanbul Saudi consulate.

Mr Erdogan’s statement came as the Saudi foreign minister publicly apologised to Khashoggi’s family. But he stuck with the government’s contention that the killing had been a “tremendous mistake” by Saudi operatives acting “outside the scope of their authority”. Turkish officials have suggested that Khashoggi’s death was ordered at the highest levels of the kingdom.

And Mr Erdogan, who has commented little on the matter publicly, today indicated that he has more to say about what happened. “We said that we will reveal it,” he said in a speech broadcast live. “God willing, I will make my statement about Jamal Khashoggi in the parliamentary group on Tuesday.”

Khashoggi, a journalist critical of the Saudi government, disappeared after entering the consulate on October 2nd. Turkey and Saudi Arabia have conducted what has been described as a joint investigation into his disappearance, conducting searches of the consulate building and nearby residence of the Saudi consul. Late Friday night Irish time, Saudi Arabia announced that Khashoggi had been killed in a “brawl” inside the consulate. This was the first acknowledgment that he was dead and that Saudis were responsible. It said 18 Saudis involved in the case had been detained.

The statement followed weeks of Saudi insistence that Khashoggi had left the consulate, unharmed, hours after entering. On Sunday, in an interview with Fox News, Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said: “There obviously was a tremendous mistake made and what compounded the mistake would be the attempt to try to cover up.” Asked if he had a message for Khashoggi’s relatives, Mr Jubeir replied: “This is a terrible mistake . . . a terrible tragedy. Our condolences go out to them. We feel their pain.”

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Turkish officials have indicated that the Saudi version – that Khashoggi died in a botched attempt at interrogation and abduction – does not fully satisfy them. For several days, Turkish officials speaking anonymously have told news organizations that a team of 15 Saudis flew to Istanbul on October 2nd to kill Khashoggi, most likely on the orders of crown prince Mohammed bin Salman.

They have even claimed to have recordings of his torture and killing. “We are searching for justice and it will be revealed in full nakedness,” said Mr Erdogan this afternoon, at an event to open a new subway line in Istanbul. “Not with ordinary steps, but in full nakedness. Why did 15 people come here?” he asked. “Why have 18 people been arrested? All of this must be explained with all the details. On Tuesday, I will tell this very differently in my parliamentary group speech. I will go into detail.”

Mr Erdogan had been uncharacteristically quiet about the scandal around Khashoggi’s disappearance, even as a steady stream of leaks from his government helped the case capture the world’s attention and shook relations between Saudi Arabia and the United States. Yet Turkey’s president, who knew Khashoggi personally and took great affront at how Saudi Arabia handled the affair, did use information gathered by his intelligence services to pressure the Saudis into owning up.

Saudi leaders in the dark

In particular, Erdogan has aimed some of his ire towards Crown Prince Mohammed, whose firm grip on power in the kingdom has been called into question over the death of Khashoggi, who wrote columns for the Washington Post. Mr Erdogan made an apparent swipe at the crown prince in his speech Sunday. “And right now, what does the world say about whom?” he said. “We will look into all of this.”

US President Donald Trump with Saudi Arabia’s crown prince Mohammed bin Salman in the Oval Office. Photograph: Mandel Ngan/ AFP/Getty Images
US President Donald Trump with Saudi Arabia’s crown prince Mohammed bin Salman in the Oval Office. Photograph: Mandel Ngan/ AFP/Getty Images

Khashoggi, who for years was close to the Saudi royal family, became a critic as Crown Prince Mohammed cracked down on dissent, moving to the United States. Mr Jubeir stuck to his government’s insistence that the kingdom’s leadership did not know of the operation to confront Khashoggi in the consulate in Istanbul and that it did not know at first that he had been killed.

He denied that the crown prince knew of the operation ahead of time. “The individuals who did this did this outside the scope of their authority,” he said. It was not until after some time after the killing that Saudi leaders realised that their account contradicted the information the Turks had, he said. “We discovered that he was killed in the consulate,” he said. “We don’t know in terms of details how. We don’t know where the body is.”

Turkish officials have said Khashoggi’s body was dismembered by a Saudi forensics expert using a bone saw and then disposed of. In recent days, investigators have combed through sites, including a forest just outside Istanbul and a farmhouse south the city, looking for evidence of his fate. – New York Times