The consul himself was in the room, according to the Journal’s sources.
Yesterday the tentative cover story for Khashoggi’s death was “interrogation and attempted rendition gone wrong.” If he was dead in minutes, things went really wrong really fast!
Turkish officials said they shared evidence in recent days, including the details of an audio recording, with both the U.S. and Saudi Arabia to support their conclusion that Mr. Khashoggi was killed at the hand of Saudi operatives. It wasn’t clear how Turkish officials had an audio recording.
The recording indicates how Mr. Khashoggi was killed in the office of the Saudi consul general, Mohammad al-Otaibi, minutes after he walked into the consulate building on Oct. 2, said people familiar with the matter. Mr. Khashoggi wasn’t interrogated, the people said. Instead, he was beaten up, drugged and killed by Saudi operatives who had flown in from Riyadh earlier in the day, the people said.
Then, on the recording, a voice can be heard inviting the consul to leave the room, the people familiar with the matter said. The voice of a man Turkish authorities identified as Saudi forensic specialist Salah Al Tabiqi can be heard recommending other people present to listen to some music while he dismembered Mr. Khashoggi’s body, the people said.
Turkish sources (maybe the same ones?) are telling the same story to Middle East Eye. Supposedly Khashoggi was dragged from the consul’s office to the study in the next room and thrown onto the table. A witness downstairs reportedly heard him screaming. The screaming allegedly ceased when his captors drugged him — at which point al-Tabiqi went to work cutting him up, right there on the table. While he was still alive. Seven minutes from the time he entered the building to his death. Whether Khashoggi was unconscious when the dismemberment began or merely paralyzed, only the Saudis know. For now.
As for why the grisly details of the killing are suddenly leaking, presumably the Turks want to show their international audience that they’re not bluffing in claiming that they know what happened and have proof. If in fact al-Tabiqi recommended listening to music to others in the room before he started cutting (which Middle East Eye also claims), he and everyone else present would know that the Turks have the goods. And if they have the goods, the “botched interrogation” cover story that the Saudis and the White House were interested in 48 hours ago simply won’t, er, cut it. Erdogan’s tightening the screws here. I wonder what he wants from the Saudi crown prince to loosen them again by officially supporting the “botched interrogation” narrative.
It gets worse for the prince:
One of the suspects identified by Turkey in the disappearance of the Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi was a frequent companion of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman — seen disembarking from airplanes with him in Paris and Madrid and photographed standing guard during his visits this year to Houston, Boston and the United Nations.
Three others are linked by witnesses and other records to the Saudi crown prince’s security detail.
At least nine of the 15 suspects worked for Saudi security services, per the NYT. The leaks from Turkish authorities to western papers have grown to the point that WaPo now has photos of the passports used by seven of those suspects. According to CNN, the man who led the mission is “a high-ranking officer with the General Intelligence Presidency, Saudi Arabia’s main intelligence service.” If you’re looking for a way to clear MBS from culpability, your best argument now is that no one would leave this many fingerprints on a murder. At a minimum, Salman would have reached beyond his own inner security circle to find people to do the deed, precisely so that he might claim plausible deniability later if the plot was exposed. What the hell was he thinking? And why did he underestimate the Turks’ willingness to expose him so badly?
Hey, the important thing is that State Department officials are havin’ fun in Riyadh this week:
The pictures of Pompeo grinning, smiling, and laughing with the crown prince—as if a journalist wasn't just murdered—are remarkable. Not only is it bad policy; it's downright embarrassing. It makes Pompeo look like an unserious pushover. It's really indefensible on any grounds pic.twitter.com/qwgs9LK9VH
— Shadi Hamid (@shadihamid) October 16, 2018
If I were the State Department's spokesperson, on an official trip to learn more about the dark, dubious circumstances surrounding the disappearance of a U.S. resident, I probably would have skipped the tourist-in-Riyadh photos. But that's just me. pic.twitter.com/oBBWOt1G5b
— David Gura (@davidgura) October 17, 2018
Coincidentally, the $100 million the Saudis had pledged to the U.S. for help in Syria landed in American accounts this week. Imagine how sad Lindsey Graham is going to be when his buddy the president informs him that the American-Saudi alliance will not be ending and that he’ll be very unhappy if Graham tries to find a veto-proof majority in Congress for sanctions.
Further reading: Digest this column by David Ignatius, which identifies the Saudi officer most likely to end up as MBS’s fall guy. People on Twitter yesterday were arguing that if the U.S. agrees to go along with the “botched interrogation” story — which may be impossible given the alleged audio evidence — it should at least make clear to the Saudi royals that they aren’t allowed to execute their own henchmen for carrying out the so-called “rogue” operation. It’s one thing to let MBS off the hook on a flimsy pretext, it’s another to let him kill even more people to enable it. That’s a compassionate view, but by letting the henchmen off the hook too, it inadvertently sends the message to Saudi intelligence that there’ll be no repercussions for them either if they’re caught red-handed murdering someone abroad again. If you want to drive a wedge between MBS and his executioners and force other Saudi operatives to think twice next time they get the order to assassinate, you might have to let them sort it out themselves.
Exit question: Where’s the body? Presumably it was dissolved chemically somehow, but where’s the residue of that? Did they take it back to the Kingdom with them?