President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey laid out on Tuesday the Saudi planning of what he called the “premeditated murder” of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the country’s consulate in Istanbul, and demanded that the Saudi suspects face justice in Turkey.
After saying he would reveal “the naked truth” about Mr Khashoggi’s death, Mr Erdogan, in his first extended remarks on the case, sketched out the chronology of a broad operation and offered some new details.
The team of Saudi officials that arrived in stages in Istanbul to carry out the killing included generals, he said, and the Saudis conducted reconnaissance in rural areas outside the city where investigators have been searching for Mr Khashoggi’s remains.
“It is clear that this savage murder did not happen at the drop of a dime but was a planned affair,” Mr Erdogan said, challenging the official Saudi account that the journalist was accidentally killed in a melee inside the consulate.
The speech made clear that Mr Erdogan had no intention of dropping a case that has created an international furore, and that he would press the Saudis for an honest accounting of a killing that he pointedly noted occurred inside his country.
“This murder might have been committed at a consulate building which may be considered Saudi Arabian land, but it rests within the borders of Turkey,” Mr Erdogan said, adding that international agreements on the status of consular property “cannot allow the investigation of this murder to be concealed behind the armour of immunity”.
Mr Erdogan’s much-anticipated address, to the weekly gathering of his party in the Parliament chamber in Ankara, came after more than two weeks of carefully orchestrated leaks to the news media by Turkey that implicated the highest levels of the Saudi government, notably the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, in the death of Mr Khashoggi on October 2.
Saudi Arabia has said that 18 officials were under investigation in the killing, but Mr Erdogan said that he would call King Salman of Saudi Arabia and ask that the case be adjudicated in Istanbul, not Riyadh or elsewhere in Saudi Arabia.
The Saudi government maintained at first that Mr Khashoggi had left the Saudi consulate in Istanbul alive and well before reversing course. Since admitting on Friday that Mr Khashoggi had been killed inside the consulate, Saudi Arabia has claimed that his death was accidental and that the operation was not authorised by the crown prince.
— Al Jazeera English (@AJEnglish) October 23, 2018
Turkish and Western intelligence officials and politicians have rejected that account as not credible, and Mr Erdogan made clear in his speech on Tuesday that he held the same view. Without naming names, he said those responsible, no matter how high ranking, must be held to account.
Mr Erdogan largely confined himself to confirming and adding some details to what his government had already leaked to the news media, rather than dropping new bombshells.
And he did not mention Turkish officials’ claims that his government has audio and video recordings of the killing, and that Mr Khashoggi was dismembered with a bone saw in the consulate.
But he posed a series of tough questions, throwing down a challenge to the Saudi leadership to provide answers.
He demanded to know why team of 15 Saudis, who have been implicated in the killing, flew to Istanbul on the day Mr Khashoggi disappeared, and noted that Turkish investigators were not allowed into the consulate until almost two weeks later.
“On whose orders have these people come?” he asked. “We’re seeking answers. Why has the consulate general building not been opened right away but days after? We’re seeking answers.
“When the murder was so clear, why have so many inconsistent statements been made? Why has the body of someone, the killing of whom has been officially admitted, not been found?”
He also referred to Saudi officials’ contention that Mr Khashoggi’s body was rolled up in a rug and turned over to a “local collaborator” for disposal.
“Who is this local collaborator?” Mr Erdogan demanded. “You have to declare who this local collaborator is.”
Mr Khashoggi, 59, was a Saudi who had been close to members of the royal family and to Mr Erdogan. He became a critic of the kingdom as the powerful Saudi crown prince, Mohammed, cracked down on dissent.
Mr Khashoggi, who wrote columns for The Washington Post, moved last year to the United States.
His death has badly damaged the reputation of the kingdom and Mohammed, who had held himself out as a leader with plans to reform Saudi Arabia’s economy and society.
Shortly before Mr Erdogan spoke, the Saudis opened a much-anticipated investment conference in Riyadh – though in response to the Khashoggi killing, many government officials and financial leaders from around the world had pulled out of the event.
The scandal has soured relations between Saudi Arabia and the United States – as well as other Western nations – and worsened the already frosty dealings between Turkey and Saudi Arabia, two regional powers.
–The New York Times