The mystery over the disappearance of Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi has new grisly developments. Khashoggi was last seen on October 2, entering the Saudi Arabian embassy in Istanbul to obtain a document proving he was divorced in order to marry in Turkey. The wedding was set to be the following day. He never left the premises—and theories as to what happened to him, along with increased diplomatic tension between the U.S. and the Kingdom have ensued.
Khashoggi was also reported to possibly be part of Saudi Arabian intelligence having worked at embassies in Washington and London. After Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman consolidated power in the country, he became a vocal critic of the royal family, relocated to the U.S., and began writing columns for The Washington Post (via NYT):
Mr. Khashoggi, who was 59 when he disappeared, was well known and well liked by journalists and diplomats who traveled to the kingdom.
He had worked in the Saudi embassies in Washington and London, and some suspected he had also worked for Saudi intelligence. Then, over years in the Saudi news media, he established himself as a kind of unofficial spokesman for the royal family, which often preferred to speak through surrogates.
His independent streak and empathy for the Western perspective made him a uniquely important, well-liked contact for foreign journalists and diplomats seeking to understand the royal perspective.
Then came Mohammed bin Salman, who became crown prince last year and has consolidated unrivaled control over the levers of power inside the kingdom.
After that, Mr. Khashoggi felt there was no longer room in Saudi Arabia for even his relatively modest degree of independence. He relocated to Virginia, became a columnist for The Washington Post, and reinvented himself as the crown prince’s most prominent critic in the West.
Mr. Khashoggi walked into the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul around 1:15 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 2, for an appointment to pick up a document.
Under the strain of his voluntary exile from Saudi Arabia, his marriage had ended in a divorce, and he had since become engaged to a Turkish woman. Mr. Khashoggi needed certification from the Saudi authorities of his divorce so that he could remarry in Turkey; the wedding was planned for the next day.
The Turkish authorities have released video footage of him walking into the consulate, but they say there is none of him walking out. The Saudis, while insisting that he left the consulate safely, have not offered any evidence.
What has happened since his disappearance was reported is an ever-growing tale of the international spy game—and has shown a spotlight on its darkest corners. Apparently, a 15-man team from Saudi Arabia flew into Istanbul, did their business, and flew back. The Saudi government reportedly has been caught in intercepted communications of discussing ways to lure Khashoggi back onto Saudi soil (via WaPo):
Before Khashoggi’s disappearance, U.S. intelligence intercepted communications of Saudi officials discussing a plan to capture him, according to a person familiar with the information. The Saudis wanted to lure Khashoggi back to Saudi Arabia and lay hands on him there, this person said. It was not clear whether the Saudis intended to arrest and interrogate Khashoggi or to kill him, or if the United States warned Khashoggi that he was a target, this person said.
Saudi officials, however, have denied reports that they sent a 15-man team to Istanbul on the day Khashoggi disappeared, saying that the only team they sent to Turkey consisted of investigators who arrived Saturday to help find the journalist.
According to flight records, two privately owned planes flying from Riyadh arrived in Istanbul on Oct. 2, one before sunrise and the other in the late afternoon. 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 planes are owned by Riyadh-based Sky Prime Aviation Services, according to public records.
Flight data collected by AirNavRadarBox, a firm that tracks private and commercial planes all over the world, showed that the first of the two planes left Riyadh late Oct. 1 and touched down in Istanbul the following day at 3:15 a.m.
Through Turkish sources, Khashoggi was abducted inside the embassy, tortured, and dismembered. The Huffington Post said the torture was done with a high-ranking Saudi official watching. Khashoggi’s murder has reportedly been caught on audio recording (via WSJ):
The recording indicates how Mr. Khashoggi was killed in the office of the Saudi consul general, Mohammad al-Otaibi, minutes after he walked into the consulate building on Oct. 2, said people familiar with the matter. Mr. Khashoggi wasn’t interrogated, the people said. Instead, he was beaten up, drugged and killed by Saudi operatives who had flown in from Riyadh earlier in the day, the people said.
Then, on the recording, a voice can be heard inviting the consul to leave the room, the people familiar with the matter said. The voice of a man Turkish authorities identified as Saudi forensic specialist Salah Al Tabiqi can be heard recommending other people present to listen to some music while he dismembered Mr. Khashoggi’s body, the people said.
Turkish investigators spent nine hours searching for clues inside the Saudi diplomatic premises on Monday and early Tuesday. Complicating the search, said Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, was the fact that some rooms had been freshly repainted.
Middle East Eye has more. According to these Turkish sources, and we must remind folks that’s all we have now, the recording shows Khashoggi screaming for his life as he was dismembered alive. It took seven minutes to kill him [Warning: Some graphic content]:
Khashoggi was dragged from the consul-general’s office at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul and onto the table of his study next door, the Turkish source said.
Horrendous screams were then heard by a witness downstairs, the source said.
"The consul himself was taken out of the room. There was no attempt to interrogate him. They had come to kill him,” the source told MEE.
The screaming stopped when Khashoggi - who was last seen entering the Saudi consulate on 2 October - was injected with an as yet unknown substance.
Salah Muhammad al-Tubaigy, who has been identified as the head of forensic evidence in the Saudi general security department, was one of the 15-member squad who arrived in Ankara earlier that day on a private jet.
Tubaigy began to cut Khashoggi’s body up on a table in the study while he was still alive, the Turkish source said.
The killing took seven minutes, the source said.
As he started to dismember the body, Tubaigy put on earphones and listened to music. He advised other members of the squad to do the same.
“When I do this job, I listen to music. You should do [that] too,” Tubaigy was recorded as saying, the source told MEE.
There are also reports that his body parts were disposed of in acid. The Khashoggi incident is a serious blow to international norms, though Walter Russell Mead reminds us in an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal that a strong relationship with the Kingdom is still in the U.S.’s best interest.