Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was decapitated on Oct. 2 inside Saudi Arabia’s consulate in İstanbul after torture during which his fingers were cut off, according to media reports citing an audio recording of the brutal execution.
Turkey’s pro-government Yeni Şafak newspaper reported on Wednesday that the voice of Saudi Consul General Mohammad al-Otaibi could be heard in one of the recordings of Khashoggi’s “interrogation.” After al-Otaibi told the interrogators to “do it somewhere else outside or I will be in trouble,” he was told to “shut up if you want to live when you are back in Arabia.”
Al-Otaibi returned to Saudi Arabia on Tuesday before Turkish police searched his residence in İstanbul.
Meanwhile, Qatar-based Al Jazeera reported that the dismemberment of Khashoggi’s body inside the consulate took seven minutes. It was conducted by Saudi forensics expert Salah Muhammad al-Tubaigy, who was reportedly heard in the recordings advising the interrogators to “listen to music” while he cut up the body.
According to Turkish police, al-Tubaigy was one of 15 Saudis who had arrived in İstanbul on two planes and entered the consulate while Khashoggi was inside. The group, which left Turkey on the same day, also included Saudi intelligence officers and Royal Guards.
The New York Times confirmed the identities of nine people in the group on Tuesday, adding that at least four of them were previously part of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s entourage on foreign trips.
One of them, Maher Abdulaziz Mutreb, was a diplomat assigned to the Saudi Embassy in London in 2007, according to a British diplomatic roster. He traveled extensively with the crown prince, perhaps as a bodyguard.
A Turkish police team spent more than nine hours in the consulate on Oct. 15 and Oct. 16, and The Associated Press reported that they found “certain evidence” of the killing of the prominent Saudi dissident.
Some substances at the Saudi consulate were painted over, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said on Tuesday.
Turkish officials would not comment on the disposal method of the body pending an investigation and the search of the consul general’s residence.
Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Wednesday that Saudi Arabia promised to ensure a thorough probe and accountability over the missing journalist. President Donald Trump dispatched Pompeo on an urgent mission to Riyadh to defuse the crisis over Khashoggi.
After a full day of talks, a statement from Pompeo and a tweet by Trump said that the Saudi leadership “strongly denied knowledge of what took place” in the consulate, without outright denying that an incident occurred.
Officials in Turkey say the Saudis killed Khashoggi inside the consulate. The Saudis earlier insisted, without evidence, that Khashoggi left of his own accord while later reportedly hinted that rogue elements could be responsible for his death.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan met Pompeo at Ankara’s Esenboğa Airport on Wednesday. The meeting, which was also attended by Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, presidential spokesperson İbrahim Kalın and National Intelligence Organization (MİT) Undersecretary Hakan Fidan, took 40 minutes.
US President Trump, who dispatched his top diplomat to address the crisis, has given Saudi Arabia the benefit of the doubt in Khashoggi’s disappearance, even as US lawmakers point the finger at the Saudi leadership and Western pressure mounts on Riyadh to provide answers.
Çavuşoğlu had said Pompeo would bring information about the case to Ankara, two weeks after Khashoggi vanished when he visited the Saudi consulate in İstanbul to collect documents for his planned marriage.
After meeting with King Salman and the crown prince on Tuesday, Pompeo told reporters that Saudi Arabia has committed to conducting a complete investigation into Khashoggi’s disappearance.
How the crown prince, often referred to as MBS, emerges from the Khashoggi disappearance is a test of how the West will deal with Saudi Arabia in the future. At issue will be to what extent the West believes responsibility for Khashoggi lies with the powerful young ruler.
“In each of those meetings, I stressed the importance of them conducting a complete investigation into the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi. They made a commitment to do that,” Pompeo told reporters traveling with him after boarding the plane for Ankara.
“They said it would be a thorough, complete and transparent investigation,” he said. “They indicated they understood that getting that done in a timely, rapid fashion so they could begin to answer important questions.”
Pompeo also said after the meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman that Riyadh was being treated as “guilty until proven innocent.”
Turkish forensic experts will search the residence of Saudi Arabia’s consul general on Wednesday as they collect evidence in the disappearance of Khashoggi. The diplomat’s official car will also be examined, Çavuşoğlu said in Ankara after meeting with Pompeo.
Çavuşoğlu said he wouldn’t speculate about press reports that Khashoggi was murdered and his body dismembered by a Saudi team after the journalist entered the country’s consulate in İstanbul two weeks ago.
Meanwhile, a top aide to President Erdoğan suggested that the Turkish government is helping to bury what happened to Khashoggi. In a column published by the the Yeni Birlik newspaper, İlnur Çevik wrote that by not releasing evidence tied to Khashoggi’s disappearance, Turkey is implicitly helping the Saudis.
Çevik criticized Saudi Arabia’s recent stance toward Turkey, including what he called its support for Kurdish militias in Syria that Turkey has been fighting. However, Çevik said, Turkey’s response to Khashoggi’s disappearance has not used the incident to punish Saudi Arabia for these unwelcome policies.
“On the contrary, Turkey is taking steps with good will and helping out King Salman. Just because of this, King Salman called and thanked our president. Turkey is really a good friend for those who know the value of it,” Çevik said.
Turkey is ranked 157th among 180 countries in the 2018 World Press Freedom Index released by Reporters Without Borders (RSF). If Turkey falls two more places, it will make it to the list of countries on the blacklist, which have the poorest record in press freedom.
Turkey is the biggest jailer of journalists in the world. The most recent figures documented by SCF show that 237 journalists and media workers were in jail as of October 7, 2018, most in pretrial detention. Of those in prison 169 were under arrest pending trial while only 68 journalists have been convicted and are serving their time. Detention warrants are outstanding for 148 journalists who are living in exile or remain at large in Turkey.
Detaining tens of thousands of people over alleged links to the Gülen movement, the government also closed down some 200 media outlets, including Kurdish news agencies and newspapers, after a coup attempt in Turkey on July 15, 2016.