Turkish authorities have put the fiancée of slain Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi under 24-hour police protection, Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency (AA) said on Sunday.
Khashoggi, a US resident and Washington Post columnist, disappeared on Oct. 2 after he walked into the Saudi consulate in İstanbul to obtain documents for his upcoming marriage to Hatice Cengiz.
The İstanbul Governor’s Office has put Cengiz, a Turkish national, under 24-hour police protection, AA said. On the day Khashoggi disappeared, Cengiz waited for hours outside the consulate for him and, when he did not return, got in touch with authorities as he had instructed her to do, she later said.
Meanwhile, five Turkish employees of the Saudi consulate in İstanbul are giving statements as witnesses in an investigation into the killing of Khashoggi, Turkish pro-government broadcaster NTV said on Monday.
Twenty consulate employees, including the consul general’s driver, gave statements to prosecutors in relation to the incident last week, NTV previously reported. Prosecutors are seeking statements from a total of 45 employees, CNN Turk said.
After weeks of denying knowledge of his fate, Saudi officials said the prominent journalist was killed in a “rogue operation.” Comments from Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir on Sunday were some of the most direct yet from Riyadh, which has given multiple and conflicting accounts about Khashoggi’s killing on Oct. 2, first denying his death and later admitting it amid an international outcry.
Jubeir called Khashoggi’s killing a “huge and grave mistake” but sought to shield its powerful crown prince from the widening crisis, saying Mohammed bin Salman had not been aware of the plan.
After two weeks of denying any involvement in the 59-year-old’s disappearance, Saudi Arabia on Saturday said Khashoggi, a critic of the crown prince, died during a fight in the building. An hour later, another Saudi official attributed the death to a chokehold.
“Nothing can justify this killing and we condemn it in the strongest possible terms,” Germany, Britain and France said in their joint statement.
As Saudi Arabia faced intensifying international skepticism over its story about the death of Khashoggi, a senior government official laid out a new version of the death inside the Saudi consulate in İstanbul that in key respects contradicts previous explanations, according to a report by Reuters.
The latest account, provided by a Saudi official who requested anonymity, includes details on how the team of 15 Saudi nationals sent to confront Khashoggi on Oct. 2 had threatened him with being drugged and kidnapped and then killed him in a chokehold when he resisted. A member of the team then dressed in Khashoggi’s clothes to make it appear as if he had left the consulate.
Turkish officials suspect the body of Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist and critic of powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was cut up, but the Saudi official said it was rolled up in a rug and given to a “local cooperator” for disposal. Asked about allegations that Khashoggi had been tortured and beheaded, he said preliminary results of the investigation did not suggest that.
The Saudi official presented what he said were Saudi internal intelligence documents which appeared to show the initiative to bring back dissidents as well as the specific one involving Khashoggi. He also showed testimony from those involved in what he described as the 15-man team’s coverup and the initial results of an internal probe. He did not provide proof to substantiate the findings of the investigation and the other evidence.
This narrative is the latest Saudi account that has changed multiple times. The authorities initially dismissed reports that Khashoggi had gone missing inside the consulate as false and said he had left the building soon after entering. When the media reported a few days later that he had been killed there, they called the accusations “baseless.”
Asked by Reuters why the government’s version of Khashoggi’s death kept changing, the official said the government’s initial account was based on “false information reported internally at the time.”
“Once it became clear these initial mission reports were false, it launched an internal investigation and refrained from further public comment,” the official said, adding that the investigation is continuing.
In a speech on Sunday, Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan appeared to suggest he was getting ready to release some information about the Turkish investigation and would do so at his weekly speech on Tuesday to members of his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) parliamentary group.
Erdoğan has remained largely silent on the case, although Turkey’s pro-government newspapers have released information about events at the consulate. Turkish sources say the authorities have an audio recording purportedly documenting Khashoggi’s murder inside the consulate but have not released it.
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.
Riyadh dispatched a high-level delegation to İstanbul on Tuesday and ordered an internal investigation, but US President Donald Trump said on Saturday he is not satisfied with Saudi Arabia’s handling of Khashoggi’s death and said questions remain unanswered. Germany and France on Saturday called Saudi Arabia’s explanation of how Khashoggi died incomplete.
According to the latest version of the death, the government wanted to convince Khashoggi, who moved to Washington a year ago fearing reprisals for his views, to return to the kingdom as part of a campaign to prevent Saudi dissidents from being recruited by the country’s enemies, the official said.
To that end, the official said, the deputy head of the General Intelligence Presidency, Ahmed al-Asiri, put together a 15-member team from the intelligence and security forces to go to İstanbul, meet Khashoggi at the consulate and try to convince him to return to Saudi Arabia.
“There is a standing order to negotiate the return of dissidents peacefully; which gives them the authority to act without going back to the leadership,” the official said. “Asiri is the one who formed the team and asked for an employee who worked with [Saud] al-Qahtani and who knew Jamal from the time they both worked at the embassy in London,” he said.
The official said Qahtani had signed off on one of his employees conducting the negotiations. According to the plan, the team could hold Khashoggi in a safe house outside İstanbul for “a period of time” but then release him if he ultimately refused to return to Saudi Arabia, the official said.
Things went wrong from the start as the team overstepped their orders and quickly employed violence, the official said. Khashoggi was ushered into the consul general’s office where an operative named Maher Mutreb spoke to him about returning to Saudi Arabia, according to the government’s account.
On Monday, Turkish President Erdoğan and US President Trump spoke on the telephone to discuss Khashoggi, AA said on Monday morning. “Erdoğan and Trump agreed the Khashoggi case needs to be cleared up in all aspects,” AA reported.
Meanwhile, Germany wants other European Union member states to follow its example in stopping arms exports to Saudi Arabia as long as uncertainty remains over the killing of Khashoggi, Economy Minister Peter Altmaier said on Monday.
Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Sunday that Germany would stop arms exports to Saudi Arabia as long as the uncertainty around Khashoggi’s death persisted. Altmaier, a close ally of Merkel, said Riyadh’s explanations on the case so far had not been satisfactory. “The government is in agreement that we will not approve further arms exports for the moment because we want to know what happened,” Altmaier told German broadcaster ZDF.
So far this year the German government had approved weapons exports worth more than 400 million euros ($462 million) to Saudi Arabia, making it the second-biggest recipient of German arms after Algeria. Asked whether Germany would roll back previously agreed arms deals with Saudi, he said a decision would be made “very soon.”
Altmaier said other EU states should stop arms exports to Saudi Arabia in order to increase pressure on Riyadh over the Khashoggi case. “For me, it would be important that we come to a joint European stance,” Altmaier said. “Because only if all European countries are in agreement, it will make an impression on the government in Riyadh. It will not have any positive consequences if we halt arms exports but other countries at the same time fill the gap.”
According to a report by Reuters, senior German politicians also urged Siemens CEO Joe Kaeser over the weekend to pull out of an investment conference in Saudi Arabia later this week.