The Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has publicly torn down Saudi claims that the dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi died in a fight in its Istanbul consulate, making fresh allegations that his death was a premeditated murder and calling for an independent investigation in Turkey.
In the hotly anticipated address at the Turkish parliament in Ankara, in which the president had promised to reveal the “naked truth” about what happened to Khashoggi, Erdoğan said he was not satisfied with Riyadh’s version of events of what happened and called for the “highest ranked” of those responsible to be brought to justice.
Tabling new allegations that Saudi officials scoped out rural areas outside Istanbul the day before Khashoggi’s murder, the president said Riyadh’s suggestion that the killing was a rogue extradition operation gone wrong was unsatisfactory and Turkey’s investigation was ongoing.
“To blame such an incident on a handful of security and intelligence members would not satisfy us or the international community,” Erdoğan said. “Saudi Arabia has taken an important step by admitting the murder. As of now we expect of them to openly bring to light those responsible – from the highest ranked to the lowest – and to bring them to justice.”
Erdoğan spoke of the “sincerity” of Saudi Arabia’s King Salman in the investigation so far but made no mention of his son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who, it is believed, was probably aware of and possibly even ordered the silencing of his prominent critic.
Saudi Arabia must relinquish control of the investigation into the “political” murder to an independent and unbiased Turkish operation in Istanbul, Erdoğan said.
He strongly criticised Saudi Arabia’s “inconsistent statements” in the case so far and demanded the kingdom identify the “local collaborator” who allegedly disposed of Khashoggi’s body.
Riyadh says Khashoggi was accidentally choked during a rendition attempt that went wrong, and his body was rolled up in a rug and given to a third party.
Turkish investigators, however, have steadily leaked evidence to the media that allegedly proves the journalist was tortured, murdered and his body dismembered within the consulate building. CCTV footage shows a body double dressed in Khashoggi’s clothes leaving the consulate and touring Istanbul’s landmarks, undermining the idea that the team interrogating Khashoggi meant to bring him back alive.
As reported by the Observer on Sunday, Turkish investigators may have intercepted the hit squad’s communications. Reuters said on Monday that Saud al-Qahtani, an influential adviser to Bin Salman, participated in a Skype call to the room in the consulate where Khashoggi was held, telling the team to “bring me the head of the dog”.
Khashoggi case has put Saudi prince right where Erdoğan wants him
Qahtani, along with several other senior officials, have been fired from their government positions. Erdoğan said that of the 18 men arrested by Saudi Arabia in the investigation, 15 were those already identified by Turkish police as members of the hit squad who flew in and out of Istanbul on the same day Khashoggi was killed.
Saudi Arabia’s initial denial and then perceived cover-up of events have created a diplomatic crisis for the kingdom as western allies have expressed scepticism over Riyadh’s version of events, pulling out of a large foreign investment conference in Riyadh that began on Tuesday and triggering calls from the US Congress to reevaluate the close political friendship between the Trump administration and Bin Salman.
Erdoğan’s official update on the three-week-old case did not go as far as directly implicating Bin Salman – a move likely to be welcomed by Washington, which has made him the keystone of the administration’s Middle East policy.