Jamal Khashoggi died as a result of a brutal premeditated murder, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday, in a highly anticipated speech in which he rejected Saudi Arabia’s claim that the journalist was killed accidentally.
Erdogan called on the perpetrators to be brought to justice in Istanbul and questioned whether the Vienna Conventions, which give immunity to diplomatic staff, applied in this case.
It was the first time that any official in Turkey has publicly outlined the Turkish contention that Khashoggi was killed by a hit squad sent from Saudi Arabia. But while Erdogan had promised the “naked truth,” he offered few details beyond those revealed by Turkish officials speaking privately.
The main thrust of his speech amounted to a comprehensive rejection of Saudi Arabia’s case that Khashoggi died by accident, as a result of a brawl. “The information obtained so far and the evidence found shows that Khashoggi was murdered in a ferocious manner,” Erdogan told lawmakers in Ankara.
Among the new details revealed by Erdogan was an allegation that, on the day before Khashoggi was killed, a team of consular staff carried out a reconnaissance mission at two separate locations in Belgrad Forest, on the outskirts of Istanbul, and at Yalova, a city about a 55 mile (90 kilometer) drive south of the city.
He put into the public domain allegations that a 15-strong hit squad arrived in Istanbul, saying that a team of three arrived on a private jet the day before Khashoggi died, and that two teams of nine and three — the larger team including “generals” — arrived on the day of his appointment at the consulate.
Hours before Khashoggi arrived to obtain paperwork to marry his fiancee, security cameras were disconnected, Erdogan said.
“We stated that we would not remain silent and that we would take every step necessary for justice to be done,” Erdogan said to members of his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).
But there were some glaring omissions and few new details in the speech. Much of what Erdogan said in the parliamentary address has already appeared in media reports and he made no reference to a previously reported audio recording from inside the consulate, said to have captured his alleged torture and killing. Nor did he mention Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the Kingdom’s de facto ruler, by name.
Bin Salman, in public comments the day after Khashoggi disappeared, professed to know nothing about any malfeasance, insisting Khashoggi had left the Istanbul consulate alive.
Erdogan called on the King of Saudi Arabia for the 18 Saudi suspects linked to Khashoggi’s death be tried in Istanbul.
After weeks of denying any knowledge of Khashoggi’s whereabouts, the Saudi government said on Friday that the journalist had indeed died in the kingdom’s diplomatic compound in Istanbul. The Saudi story has shifted drastically since Khashoggi was last seen entering the consulate on October 2; the official line is now that he was accidentally killed when a discussion with officials turned into a brawl.
Erdogan presented a very different version of events on Tuesday, speaking in Ankara as Saudi Arabia’s flagship investment conference got underway in Riyadh, the Saudi capital. Dozens of top business leaders from around the world have pulled out of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s showcase event, known as “Davos in the desert,” as questions mount over the Saudi government’s role in the death of the Washington Post columnist and US resident.
Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said on Sunday that Khashoggi’s killing was part of a rogue operation and that his government would punish those responsible for his “murder.”
Turkish police stand guard in front of parking lot in Istanbul, where an abandoned car belonging to the Saudi consulate was found.
But Turkish officials have maintained from the start that Khashoggi’s death was “violently planned” ahead of time, carried out by a team of Saudi operatives dispatched to Istanbul, and subsequently covered up.
In the intervening weeks, Turkish officials have released a drip-feed of information related to their investigation into Khashoggi’s murder, including surveillance footage shared exclusively with CNN that showed what a Turkish source described as a “body double” leaving the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on the day Khashoggi died.
The Saudi operative, said by the Turkish source to be one of a 15-man team sent from Saudi Arabia to kill Khashoggi, was wearing the journalist’s clothes and was picked up on surveillance footage at locations around Istanbul.
Erdogan confirmed the body double in CNN’s exclusive.
The Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Tuesday that evidence uncovered during the investigation has yet to be shared with any country, according to Turkey state-run Anadolu News, but that Turkey was “ready to cooperate in a possible probe into Khashoggi case at UN, international courts.”
“Jamal Khashoggi’s killing is a violently planned and a very complicated murder, which was being covered up,” Omer Celik, AKP spokesman, said at the party’s headquarters in Ankara on Monday. “I hope those responsible for Khashoggi’s killing are punished and no one ever thinks of repeating this.”
Speaking to reporters on Monday, Erdogan’s spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said: “The line our President put since the beginning of this case is very clear. The investigation will continue until the end.”