Saudi Arabia has some ‘splainin to do.
Over the weekend, we documented the plight of “lost” journalist is Jamal Khashoggi, a critic of the Saudi monarchy who entered the Kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul last Tuesday in order to obtain the necessary papers for his upcoming marriage only to never come out again.
As a reminder, Khashoggi isn’t just “some guy” (as it were). He’s a Washington Post contributor, but more than that, he’s well known in the Arab world, was an editor for Saudi news outlets and used to advise Prince Turki al-Faisal, the Saudi ambassador to Britain and then the United States.
After going into self-imposed exile in the U.S., Khashoggi began to criticize Mohammed bin Salman. That’s something you can get away with as long as you make sure that going forward, you steer clear of places where the Crown Prince might be able to get his hands on you – places like the Kingdom’s consulate in Instanbul, where Turkish authorities believe Khashoggi might have been killed last week.
After Turkey indicated they suspected Khashoggi likely became the victim of foul play at the hands of a 15-man “murder” squad sent from Riyadh, the world began to take notice.
“[I’m] deeply troubled to hear reports about Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi”, Mike Pence said, adding that “violence against journalists across the globe is a threat to freedom of the press and human rights.” Pence should tell that to his boss, whose characterization of the press as “enemy of the people” is emboldening dictators and autocrats across the globe in their efforts to crack down on critical media outlets.
“Just met the Saudi ambassador to seek urgent answers over Jamal Khashoggi”, UK foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt said Tuesday, before warning Riyadh that “if media reports prove correct, [Britain] will treat the incident seriously [as] friendships depend on shared values.”
Meanwhile, Turkish President (and man who knows a thing or two about disappearing journalists) Recep Tayyip Erdogan appears to be getting more agitated by the day at the idea of bin Salman murdering someone on Turkish soil. “I hope we won’t encounter an undesirable situation”, Erdogan said Sunday.
On Tuesday evening, the Washington Post fleshed out what probably happened to Khashoggi, and it’s broadly consistent with the original story as communicated via unnamed sources within the Turkish law enforcement and intelligence community who spoke to the press last week.
The Post says the Saudis were waiting for Khashoggi when he entered the consulate. The 15 Saudis implicated in the assumed hit arrived in two teams, both flying in via private Gulfstream IVs.
“According to flight records, two privately owned planes flying from Riyadh arrived in Istanbul on October 2, one before sunrise and the other in the late afternoon”, the Post writes, noting that a Turkish official “linked the call signals of the two twin-engine Gulfstream IV planes to those that investigators believe carried the 15 Saudis.”
The jets, the Post says, are owned by a company based in Riyadh.
The first team was already in the consulate waiting on Khashoggi, who entered the building at 1:14 p.m. A Turkish official who spoke to the Post said simply:
It’s clear he did not exit.
Or actually that’s not true. What’s “clear” is that he “did not exit” of his own volition. Rather, it looks like he “exited” in a black van out the back door. Here’s the Post:
Behind a gate next to the front entrance is a covered car port, out of the view of cameras. From that garage, two vehicles exited about two hours after Khashoggi entered the consulate. One of the cars was [a] Mercedes that pulled up in front of the residence of [Consul-general Mohammad al-Otaibi], at 3:09 p.m., according to the time stamp on the video still of the Mercedes.
The cars stayed at Otaibi’s residence for four hours, according to an account published Tuesday in Sabah.
The New York Times has published some of the gruesome details which were apparently conveyed by Turkish officials. To wit:
The official described a quick and complex operation in which Mr. Khashoggi was killed within two hours of his arrival at the consulate by a team of Saudi agents, who dismembered his body with a bone saw they brought for the purpose.
All 15 left just a few hours later, and Turkey has now identified the roles that most or all of them held in the Saudi government or security services, the official said. One was an autopsy expert, presumably there to help dismember the body, the official said.
“It is like ‘Pulp Fiction,’” the official said.
Turkish media controlled by Erdogan have now published the CCTV footage referenced in the Post article. Below is the video evidence documenting the arrival of the alleged “assassination squad”, the movements of the black Mercedes van mentioned by the Post, and, ultimately, the team’s exit from Turkey aboard the same jets.
That looks awfully suspicious. As the Post goes on to detail, “the initial plane left Istanbul at 10:45 p.m. [while the second plane] departed an hour and 15 minutes after it arrived” that afternoon. Both planes were back in Riyadh by Thursday after stops in Dubai and Cairo, respectively.
The most disconcerting part of all this is that according to one person who spoke to the Post, “U.S. intelligence intercepted communications of Saudi officials discussing a plan to capture Khashoggi” prior to his disappearance.
Nobody knows whether that information was shared with Khashoggi, but what we do know is that Donald Trump and Jared Kushner have gone out of their way to cultivate a friendly relationship with bin Salman.
Asked on Tuesday whether he’s spoken with Riyadh about this, Trump delivered the following not-at-all convincing answer:
Got that? “I know nothing.”
Under normal circumstances, we’d be inclined to agree with Trump when he professes to “know nothing”, but in this case, it seems like he might in fact “know” a bit more than he’s letting on.