Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said on Tuesday there were strong signs Jamal Khashoggi’s savage killing was planned and that attempts to blame it on intelligence operatives — Riyadh has suggested it was a rogue operation — “will not satisfy us.”
Speaking during his Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) parliamentary group meeting, Erdoğan addressed some details in Turkey’s investigation into the murder of Khashoggi. Erdoğan did not mention Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who some US lawmakers suspect ordered the killing. But he said Turkey would not complete its investigation into Khashoggi’s death until all questions were answered.
“Intelligence and security organizations have evidence showing the murder was planned… Pinning such a case on some security and intelligence members will not satisfy us or the international community,” he said.
Erdoğan said the whereabouts of Khashoggi’s body was still unknown, and he demanded Saudi Arabia reveal the identity of a “local cooperator” who purportedly took the body.
Erdoğan said the Saudi team explored the city’s Belgrad Forest and the northwestern province of Yalova before murdering Khashoggi. In his speech Erdogan also said the Saudi government formally admitted to the killing of Khashoggi 17 days after his murder.
“The Vienna Convention would not allow such a brutal murder to happen,” Erdoğan also stated and added, “Diplomatic immunity, which is a part of the Vienna Convention, will be debated.”
Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist and critic of the crown prince, the kingdom’s de facto ruler, disappeared three weeks ago after entering the Saudi consulate in İstanbul to obtain documents for his upcoming marriage.
Turkish officials suspect Khashoggi was killed and dismembered inside the consulate by Saudi agents. Turkish sources say authorities have an audio recording purportedly documenting the killing of the 59-year-old. However, Erdoğan made no reference to any audio recording in his speech.
Saudi Arabia initially denied knowledge of his fate before saying he was killed in a fight in the consulate. That version of events was greeted skeptically by several Western governments, straining relations with the world’s biggest oil exporter.
Erdoğan said three operatives arrived in İstanbul the day before his killing on an apparent reconnaissance mission. The next day 15 people came to the consulate. “Why did these 15 people meet in İstanbul on the day of the murder? We are seeking answers to this. Who are these people receiving orders from?” Erdoğan said.
“Why didn’t they produce the body after their admission? Who is the local cooperator that a Saudi official pointed to as the person who took the body? You should reveal who this local cooperator is. All perpetrators and instigators should be punished,” said Erdoğan.
“I have no doubt about the sincerity of King Salman. But, as this is a political murder, it should be investigated and tried independently with no bias. The suspects’ accomplices in other countries should also be included in the investigation,” Erdoğan said, and added: “I have a call for Saudi Arabia: This happened in İstanbul. We propose putting these 18 suspects on trial in İstanbul. Of course, this is something they can decide.”
Following the global outrage prompted by the journalist’s disappearance, US President Donald Trump’s comments have varied from playing down Riyadh’s role to warning of possible economic sanctions. Trump has also repeatedly highlighted the kingdom’s importance as a US ally and said Prince Mohammed was a strong and passionate leader.
Meanwhile, CIA Director Gina Haspel arrived in Turkey on Tuesday to work on the investigation into the death of Khashoggi. Trump said earlier on Monday that he has “top intelligence people in Turkey,” but did not provide any details.
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.