ISTANBUL – Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Tuesday that the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was a “planned” and “brutal” murder and called on Saudi Arabia to extradite 18 suspects to Turkey to face justice for the crime.
Erdogan’s highly anticipated comments, during a speech to his ruling party in Ankara, the Turkish capital, contradicted Saudi accounts that Khashoggi was killed when an argument inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul escalated into a fistfight. The Turkish leader did not directly accuse the Saudi leadership of involvement in the killing but strongly indicated that the Saudi investigation, which has resulted in the arrests of 18 people so far, has not yet reached high enough into the kingdom’s ruling circles.
“It will not satisfy the public by just pinning this kind of matter on a few security and intelligence officers,” he said. “Covering up this kind of savagery will hurt the conscience of all humanity.”
“Saudi Arabia took an important step by accepting the murder. After this, we expect them to reveal those responsible for this matter. We have information that the murder is not instant, but planned,” he said.
While Erdogan did not address the most explosive allegations that have surfaced during the investigation – notably that Khashoggi was dismembered after he was killed — the president provided the most detailed timeline yet of the days and hours leading up the murder on Oct. 2. He said a team of Saudi agents who were dispatched to Istanbul had carefully prepared for Khashoggi’s death.
The Saudi team that plotted the murder was first alerted, Erdogan said, after Khashoggi visited the consulate on Friday, Sept. 28.
“Planning and the work of a road map starts here,” the president said. Beginning three days later, on Oct. 1, teams of Saudi agents begin arriving in Istanbul, with one team visiting wooded areas in and around Istanbul “for reconnaissance,” Erdogan said, referring to areas that Turkish police later focused on as they searched for Khashoggi’s body.
After another team arrives at the Istanbul consulate, “the hard disk on the consulate camera is removed,” he added. The Saudi team consisted of “intelligence, security and forensic workers,” Erdogan said.
Khashoggi entered the mission at around 1:14 p.m. on Oct. 2. When he had not emerged a few hours later, his fiancee, Hatice Cengiz, who was waiting for him outside, alerted authorities, and an investigation was started, Erdogan said. Camera footage showed that Khashoggi had never left, he added.
Erdogan highlighted attempts by the Saudis to obstruct or cover up the killing, including a ruse involving a Saudi agent who was dressed like Khashoggi and captured on camera exiting the consulate.
“Why did 15 people gather in Istanbul the day of the murder? Who did these people receive orders from?” he asked. “Why was the consulate opened not immediately but days later for investigation? When the murder was obvious, why were inconsistent explanations given?”
“Why is the corpse still not found?”