The Saudi admission of Khashoggi’s murder insults our intelligence

Overnight the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs put out this statement in English arguing, preposterously, that Jamal Khashoggi was killed by accident in a fist fight in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on 2 October.

Let’s start with this useful review of the timeline of events – taken from The Guardian.

“Friday 28 September
Khashoggi, after seeking assurances for his safety, visits the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to pick up paperwork he needs in order to get married. He is told to return next week when the documents will be ready.

Tuesday 2 October
The journalist pays a second visit to the Saudi consulate. Hatice Cengiz, Khashoggi’s Turkish fiancee, waits outside the building for several hours with his personal effects including his phone – these are not allowed to be taken inside the diplomatic building – and then calls the police when he does not return.

Wednesday 3 October
The Saudi government issues a statement confirming Khashoggi is missing. It says he disappeared after leaving the consulate building the day before and it is working with the Turkish authorities to find him. Turkish officials say they believe Khashoggi is still inside the building, which they cannot search without an invitation.

Thursday 4 October
Turkey summons the Saudi ambassador in Ankara to the foreign ministry to discuss Khashoggi’s whereabouts. Human Rights Watch says if Saudi Arabia has detained Khashoggi without acknowledging it, his detention constitutes an enforced disappearance.

Friday 5 October
In Riyadh, Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, says in an interview with Bloomberg that the Turkish authorities are welcome to search the consulate building in Istanbul. He declines to say whether Khashoggi is facing any charges at home, adding: “If he’s in Saudi Arabia, I would know that.”

Saturday 6 October
Reuters news agency is given a tour of the six-storey Saudi consulate to prove that the missing journalist is not being detained there. In the afternoon, Turkish prosecutors confirm an investigation has been opened.

Reuters claims two Turkish officials have leaked that their intelligence suggests Khashoggi was killed shortly after entering the consulate. Sources confirm to the Guardian that they believe the journalist is dead, adding – without providing evidence – that he was tortured and his body removed from the premises. Saudi Arabia denies what it says are “baseless” allegations.

Sunday 7 October
Officials say they believe a hit squad of 15 men arrived from Saudi Arabia on 29 September and were present in the building on the day of Khashoggi’s disappearance, leaving shortly afterwards. Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, says he is “saddened” by the case and will wait for the results of the police investigation.

(Yet this from the Gulf News on 7 October: “Saudi Arabia has denied reports that Jamal Khashoggi, a missing Saudi citizen, had been killed inside the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul….The consulate dismissed reports it was detaining him and insisted he left the consulate.” The denials are as embarrassing as the cover-up.)

Monday 8 October
Turkey summons the Saudi ambassador for a second time in order to request Riyadh’s “full cooperation” in the investigation, including permission to search the Istanbul consulate.

Tuesday 9 October
British foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt, demands answers in a meeting with the Saudi ambassador to London, releasing a statement saying, “Violence against journalists is going up and is a grave threat to freedom of expression. If media reports prove correct we will treat the incident seriously – friendships depend on shared values.”

Wednesday 10 October
Details of an alleged hit squad are listed on flight manifests leaked to Turkish media. Reports emerge that Saudi special forces officers, intelligence officials, national guards and a forensics expert were allegedly part of a 15-person team tied to the disappearance of Khashoggi. Authorities also claim that security camera footage was removed from the Saudi consulate in Istanbul the day of the disappearance. Donald Trump says the US is “demanding” answers from the Saudi government.

Thursday 11 October
Trump announces an investigation, but insists that the US will not forgo lucrative arms deals with Riyadh, regardless of the outcome. The Turkish and Saudi governments also announce they will conduct a joint investigation into the case, raising new fears of a cover-up of evidence.

Friday 12 October
Turkish investigators allege that there are video and audio recordings to prove that Khashoggi was killed. Some officials say the evidence demonstrates that his body was dismembered.

Sunday 14 October
US officials suggest that treasury secretary Steve Mnuchin may not attend an economic conference in Saudi Arabia due to the presumed murder of Khashoggi. Saudi Arabia’s stock market tumbles, with the biggest fall in years.

Monday 15 October
Saudi Arabia says it will retaliate against any sanctions imposed over the disappearance of Khashoggi after JP Morgan and Ford pull out of the conference in Riyadh. Pressure intensifies as the French, German and UK foreign secretaries release a joint statement calling on the Saudi government to give a full account of the disappearance. Trump speculates that “rogue killers” may have been responsible for the death.

Tuesday 16 October
Trump defends Saudi Arabia in a controversial interview, comparing the case to allegations of sexual assault against supreme court justice Brett Kavanaugh during his confirmation hearing. “Here we go again with, you know, you’re guilty until proven innocent. I don’t like that. We just went through that with Justice Kavanaugh and he was innocent all the way as far as I’m concerned,” Trump tells the Associated Press.

Wednesday 17 October
It is revealed that a key suspect in the alleged torture and murder of Khashoggi worked in Australia for three months at the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine. Turkish officials say an audio recording proves Khashoggi was attacked by a Saudi hit-team when he entered the consulate. The audio allegedly reveals Salah Muhammad al-Tubaigy, a forensic specialist, ordering the team to put on headphones and listen to music while dismembering Khashoggi’s body. Trump also says the US has asked Turkey for an audio recording.

On Wednesday evening, the Washington Post also publishes Khashoggi’s final column for the paper with the headline, Jamal Khashoggi: What the Arab world needs most is free expression.

Thursday 18 October
Turkish investigators get access to the Saudi consul general’s residence in Istanbul and deploy floodlights and a drone. The search for Khashoggi’s body also extends to two woodland areas outside the city, a major expansion of the geographical scope of the inquiry.

The US and UK also join key European partners and pull out of a major economic forum in Saudi Arabia.

Friday 19 October
Saudi Arabia admits that Khashoggi is dead. Riyadh claims that he was killed in a “fist-fight” with Saudi officials and announces a purge of senior officials, including Saud al-Qahtani, an influential adviser to Salman, and General Ahmed al-Asiri, a senior intelligence official. It is reported that 18 Saudi nationals have been arrested.

Trump calls the explanation credible, but Saudi Arabia’s claims are met with derision and incredulity from members of Congress.”

The key part of the statement follows:

“The results of the preliminary investigations revealed that the discussions that took place with the citizen/Jamal Khashoggi during his presence in the Consulate of the Kingdom in Istanbul by the suspects did not go as required and escalated negatively which led to a fight between them and the citizen/Jamal Khashoggi, which aggregated [sic] the situation and led to his death, may God rest his soul, in addition to their attempt to conceal what happened and to cover it up.”

The Global Opinions editor of the Washington Post responded angrily on twitter:

“What I hate about the statement is the use of the passive construction to imply this was an accident. Jamal didn’t just “die during a struggle.”

#Khashoggi was killed. By Saudi men. In a consulate. His life was taken from him.

And we are supposed to believe, that Mohammed Bin Salman had no knowledge of this, even though his right hand man has been implicated, and a team of 15 men flew in on private planes entered a consulate on foreign soil to carry this out?

#Khashoggi was a 60 year old man. What sort of equal “fight” would he have had against 15 other men? And who brings a bone saw to a “discussion”?!

The stupidity of the Saudi explanation is mind boggling….”

Some basic and simple questions that the Saudi statement does not address:

1) What happened to the body?
2) Why did officials lie saying that he left the consulate?
3) What evidence do they have to support that there was a fistfight?
4) Why did officials argue that the 15 man delegation were day-tripping tourists?
5) Why was a senior forensic official part of the Saudi team?
6) What did MbS know – and when did he know it?
7) When did the Saudi government in Riyadh know that Khashoggi was dead? as late as 6 October they were still insisting that he had left the consulate.
8) Who are the 18 Saudis that have been detained. Do they include all 15 of the hit team sent to Istanbul – see below. And who then are the other three?
9) Why is it the fault of the deputy intelligence chief in Riyadh that a fist fight broke out in the Istanbul consulate?

Let’s go back to the 15 Saudis who flew in and out of Istanbul on the day of Khashoggi’s murder. The team included:

Maher Abdulaziz Mutreb – Mutreb has been identified by Middle East Eye as the alleged coordinator of the operation, citing Turkish security sources. He is the highest-ranked officer among several named on a Saudi interior ministry personnel document seen by the website.

The former diplomat was posted to London in 2007, according to a UK roster of foreign diplomatic staff. He is now believed to be part of the crown prince’s security detail.

The New York Times has published several photographs that show Mutreb standing guard next to the crown prince during visits this year to Spain, France and the US.

Dr Salah Muhammed al-Tubaigy- A leading Saudi forensics doctor, Tubaigy has appeared in Saudi media reports several times to talk about his work training students and setting up mobile autopsy clinics to quickly identify the cause of death for pilgrims in Mecca during the hajj.

A Twitter account with the same name identifies itself as the head of the Saudi Scientific Council of Forensics, and he has held senior positions in the kingdom’s premier medical school and the interior ministry.

Tubaigy studied at the University of Glasgow and he spent three months in Australia in 2015 as a visiting forensic pathologist at the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine in Melbourne, its director confirmed.

He can allegedly be heard on an audio recording of Khashoggi’s death from the consulate telling others in the room that he likes to listen to music while he works to ease the pressure of the job, and encouraging others to do the same.

Abdulaziz Mohammed al-Hawsawi – The New York Times said a French professional who has worked with the Saudi royal family identified Hawsawi as a member of the security team that travels with the crown prince.

Thair Ghaleb al-Harbi – An individual of this name was mentioned in Saudi media last year, when he was promoted to lieutenant in the Saudi royal guard for his bravery defending the crown prince’s palace in Jeddah during an attack last year.

Mohammad Saad al-Zahrani – In a 2017 video published by the Saudi-owned Al Ekhbariya on YouTube, a man wearing a uniform name tag bearing the same name can be seen standing next to the crown prince. A user with the same name on the Saudi app Menom3ay is listed as a member of the royal guard.

Walid Abdullah al-Shihri – Shihri is identified in Saudi media as a major general. He was also promoted last year.

A document from the Saudi interior ministry seen by Middle East Eye lists him as a member of the crown prince’s special security force.

Badr Lafi al-Otaibi – Otaibi is identified by Middle East Eye as a colonel in the crown prince’s entourage, who apparently travelled with Bin Salman to France this year.

Nayif Hasan Saad Al-Arifi – Arifi is a major described by Middle East Eye as a security and protection support officer for the crown prince.

Mansour Othman Abahussein – A brigadier also listed as a support officer for the crown prince in the document seen by Middle East Eye.

Also in the team:

Meshal Saad M al-Bostani
Fahad Shabib al-Bilawi
Saif Saad al-Qahtani
Waleed Abdullah M al-Sehri
Khalid Ayed G al-Taibi
Turki Musarref M al-Serei

All were identified on passenger lists on the two Saudi owned private planes that arived and left from Istanbul that day. The connections to the Crown Prince are far too close for him to be able to plausibly deny knowledge of the operation

So how did we get to this admission of Khashoggi’s death.

The visit of the US Secretary of State appears to have made clear to the Saudis that they need both an explanation and someone to blame. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman appears chosen one of his favoured generals to be accountable. The White House appears to think this could allow Washington and Riyadh a way out of the escalating crisis.

The sacking of Gen Ahmed al-Assiri, one of the embattled crown prince’s most trusted security officials and deputy head of Saudi intelligence, was announced on state television. al-Assiri has no family connections to the Saudi royal establishment. Conveniently. Expendable.

We do not yet know the truth of what happened that day. The cover-up which appears to be sanctioned by the White House, insults our intelligence.

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