Ankara/Riyadh: Rejecting Saudi Arabia’s claim that the killing of Jamal Khashoggi was “accidental”, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday said there is a strong evidence showing that the dissident journalist was a victim of a pre-planned “savage” murder.
In a highly-anticipated speech at a parliamentary group meeting of his ruling Justice and Development Party here, Erdogan requested the kingdom to hand over those responsible to face trial in Turkey, Hurriyet News reported.
Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist and a fierce critic of Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman, was last seen alive while entering the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul on October 2 for paperwork needed for his planned marriage.
“Turkish security services have evidence that the murder was a planned affair. Turkey and the world will only be satisfied when all the planners and perpetrators are held to account… Other countries must participate in the investigation,” the President said.
“… Jamal Khashoggi was the victim of a savage murder…To try and hide such a ferocious murder is against the conscience of humanity,” he told the Parliament.
However, the President did not produce video or audio evidence his government allegedly possessed.
Pledging to follow the investigation to the very end, Erdogan remained deferential to Saudi King Salman in his address and held back from pointing finger directly at the Crown Prince though officials linked to the royal have been implicated in the killing.
Erdogan claimed that Khashoggi first came to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on September 28 to get his marriage documents. The “roadmap” to kill him started with this visit.
He said that a day before Khashoggi disappeared, three teams of Saudi citizens arrived in Istanbul, including a group of three who scouted out the Belgrad Forest — which was being searched by Turkish investigators as a possible location for the journalist’s missing remains.
“Another team of nine Saudis, including generals, arrived on a private jet in the early hours of October 2 and, overall, a 15-strong group received Khashoggi when he was called to the consulate general while his new fiancée waited outside,” Erdogan added.
Khashoggi went inside that afternoon and never appeared again, Erdogan said, adding that the hard disk for the consulate’s camera security network was destroyed before the alleged murder.
“I spoke to (Saudi) King Salman on October 14 and formed a joint investigation team. This is how our officials could enter the consulate and the consul’s residence… Seventeen days after the killing, Saudi Arabia admitted that Khashoggi was killed in the consulate.
“We held another phone call and they told us that 18 Saudis, including people from the 15-member team we exposed, were arrested in Saudi Arabia,” he added.
Erdogan criticised Saudi Arabia’s “inconsistent statements” over the case so far. After denying knowledge of Khashoggi’s whereabouts for two weeks, Saudi Arabia last week said he was killed during a “fist fight” inside its Istanbul consulate.
Later, a Saudi source close to the royal palace said that he died in a chokehold. On Sunday, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir described Khashoggi’s death as a “murder” and a “tremendous mistake”.
The President requested Riyadh to hand over the 18 suspects to face trial in Istanbul given that the alleged crime, although technically carried out on Saudi sovereign territory, took place within the borders of Turkey.
He said that the Vienna Convention offering diplomatic immunity was a “matter of debate” in this particular case.
Erdogan sought more clarity from the Saudi administration and said a Turkish citizen who allegedly disposed of Khashoggi’s body must be named and said all those involved must be penalized.
But Erdogan did not give details about how Khashoggi died, save for describing the killing as “ferocious”.
Earlier, Turkish officials told CNN that Khashoggi’s body was dismembered. Another official had told The New York Times that one of the Saudis arrived with a bone saw.
Shortly after Erdogan’s remarks, UK-based broadcaster Sky News reported that Khashoggi’s body had been “cut up” and his face “disfigured”, with the remains found in the garden of the Saudi consul general’s home.
Meanwhile, Saudi royals expressed their condolences to Khashoggi’s eldest son and another relative at the palace in Riyadh, according to the Saudi Press Agency.
Khashoggi’s murder has triggered global outrage, precipitating a swift political isolation of the kingdom. However, the backlash has not stopped Saudi Arabia doing business at the three-day “Davos in the desert” investment conference that kicked off on Tuesday.
Oil company Saudi Aramco said it signed 15 Memoranda of Understanding worth more than $34 billion with companies from India, France, China, the US, Japan, the UAE, the United Kingdom, and South Korea.