World News

Turkish Prosecutor Says Saudis Strangled Khashoggi

Posted October 31, 2018 4:10 p.m. EDT
Updated October 31, 2018 4:12 p.m. EDT

ISTANBUL — Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi was strangled almost as soon as he stepped into the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul a month ago, and his body was then dismembered and destroyed, the chief prosecutor for Istanbul said on Wednesday, giving the first official explanation from Turkey of how Khashoggi died.

The announcement came as the Turkish and Saudi chief prosecutors ended three days of meetings as part of a joint investigation into Khashoggi’s murder without progress and Turkey seemed to be ratcheting up its pressure for answers.

The killing of Khashoggi has significantly raised tensions between Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Western intelligence analysts and Turkish officials have maintained that the operation could not have been carried out without the consent of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the de facto leader of Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia has refused Turkey’s demand that it extradite 18 Saudi officials who have been detained in their home country in connection with Khashoggi’s murder so they can stand trial in Turkey.

Mohammed sent his chief prosecutor to Istanbul for talks this week, but a statement from Irfan Fidan, the chief prosecutor for Istanbul, said that the meetings with his Saudi counterpart were largely unproductive. “Despite all our well-intentioned efforts to uncover the truth, a concrete outcome was not obtained from the meetings,” the statement said.

The Saudi chief prosecutor, Saud al-Mujeb, left for the airport and was scheduled to return to Saudi Arabia.

Turkish officials had previously revealed details about the Oct. 2 death of Khashoggi, including the strangling and dismemberment but always anonymously and usually through leaks to the Turkish media.

The decision to release information, on the record, about Khashoggi’s death was an indication of Turkey’s frustration with the failure of the Saudis to answer three key questions: Where was Khashoggi’s body? Had Saudi investigators uncovered evidence of premeditation? And who was the “local collaborator” who is said to have disposed of his remains?

The questions were asked and submitted in writing in consecutive meetings on Tuesday and Wednesday, Fidan’s statement said, and it “was emphasized that an answer was expected.”

The Saudi prosecutor promised an answer Wednesday. Instead, the Turkish prosecutor was invited to visit Saudi Arabia with his evidence and conduct joint interrogations of the 18 Saudis who have been detained in connection with the killing. That response prompted Fidan to announce publicly Turkey’s conclusions about the cause of death.

His statement said the government of Turkey was obligated to share the details with the public in light of the “enormity of the event.” It said the investigation would continue “in all it dimensions and depth.”

The statement, which was distributed to Turkish and international media, said that Khashoggi had died of suffocation and that his body was dismembered and destroyed. It made no reference to an audio recording, which has reportedly been played for the CIA director, Gina Haspel, that is said to have captured the gruesome nature of Khashoggi’s death.

Khashoggi, a columnist for The Washington Post, had entered the consulate to obtain a document required for his forthcoming marriage.

His body has not been found, and Turkish officials have repeatedly demanded that Saudi officials reveal the location of his remains and who helped the Saudis cover up the killing. The Saudi foreign minister, Adel al-Jubeir, has said that a “local collaborator” was involved in handling the disposal of Khashoggi’s body, but on Wednesday Riyadh disavowed that claim, Fidan’s statement said.

Saudi Arabia’s account of what happened to Khashoggi has shifted repeatedly in the nearly four weeks since he disappeared.

After initially contending that he had left the consulate and that they had no idea where he was, the Saudis then conceded that he had died there, but at the hands of a group of “rogue killers” during an operation that went wrong.

The Saudis shifted gears again last week, with the country’s chief prosecutor acknowledging that the killing had been “premeditated,” citing new information that had been provided by Turkish authorities.

The prosecutor’s revelation that Khashoggi had been strangled came after a strategy by Turkey of leaking details of its investigation to the media, drip by drip, to pressure Saudi Arabia to come clean.

Over the last month Turkey, has leaked lurid details about Khashoggi’s death, including the role of a Saudi forensic specialist wielding a bone saw and how, the audio recording suggested, he put on head phones to listen to music as he set to work. Turkish officials also released the photographs and names of 15 Saudi officials who flew in to Turkey the day Khashoggi was killed, some of whom proved to be security officials close to the crown prince.

Turkish media published further details Wednesday ahead of the prosecutor’s announcement, citing unnamed Turkish officials who had listened to the audio recordings.

“They forced Saudi Arabia to admit responsibility by leaking some of the evidence,” said Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, the Ankara director for the German Marshall Fund of the United States. “But also by not making all of the evidence public they have gained leverage.” He said Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is now using that leverage in relations with Saudi Arabia, but also to an extent with the Trump administration, which has pinned its Middle East policy closely to its relationship with Saudi Arabia and in particular the crown prince. Erdogan could use it defensively to protect his interests, or he could choose to release it.

“If he gave it to social media,” Unluhisarcikli said, “imagine the damage.”