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 Istanbul.
As part of the probe, police on Tuesday morning raided a villa in Yalova’s Termal district believed to belong to one of the Saudi suspects, Turkish newspaper Hurriyet reported, citing local media. Khashoggi’s body has yet to be found.
Erdogan also 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 fiancée, 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 Saudi King Salman for the 18 Saudi suspects linked to Khashoggi’s death to 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 the Crown Prince’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.
State television in Saudi Arabia flashed urgent banners on Tuesday from the Council of Ministers, stating that the kingdom would hold to account those responsible for Khashoggi’s murder.
“The procedures taken by the Kingdom regarding the incident of citizen Khashoggi indicates the leadership’s keenness to hold accountable those ‘who failed in their duties,'” the banner read.
But, during his speech, Erdogan rejected the idea that blaming “rogue elements” of the Saudi intelligence and security services would satisfy Turkey or the international community.
“It will be satisfactory only when everyone who is responsible for this is penalized appropriately,” he said. “I don’t doubt the sincerity of the King. At the same time it is very important for the inquiry to be carried out by an impartial team.”
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.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Tuesday that evidence uncovered during the investigation has yet to be shared with any country, according to Turkey’s 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.”