Did Saudis bring in a Khashoggi body double to cover up planned murder?

If true, this elaborate ruse pretty much kills off the “fistfight” story — not that too many people bought that one in the first place. Turkish officials have video surveillance of a man leaving the Saudi consulate and milling around Istanbul’s tourist district in Jamal Khashoggi’s clothing, but it’s not Khashoggi, CNN’s Clarissa Ward reports. It’s one of the 15 Saudis who entered the consulate two hours before Khashoggi, and who appears later not just in Khashoggi’s clothing but also a fake beard … for a while:

One member of the 15-man team suspected in the death of Jamal Khashoggi dressed up in his clothes and was captured on surveillance cameras around Istanbul on the day the journalist was killed, a senior Turkish official has told CNN.

CNN has obtained exclusive law enforcement surveillance footage, part of the Turkish government’s investigation, that appears to show the man leaving the consulate by the back door, wearing Khashoggi’s clothes, a fake beard, and glasses.

The same man was seen in Khashoggi’s clothing, according to the Turkish case, at the city’s world-famous Blue Mosque just hours after the journalist was last seen alive entering the consulate on October 2.

The man in the video, identified by the official as Mustafa al-Madani, was allegedly part of what investigators have said was a hit squad, sent to kill the journalist at the Saudi consulate during a scheduled appointment to get papers for his upcoming wedding.

As one Turkish law enforcement source tells CNN, “You don’t need a body double for a rendition or an interrogation.” Bringing in a body double and making this play strongly suggests that the intent was to murder him in the consulate all along. The man played the role of the body double just long enough to be seen at the Blue Mosque and the nearby palace — two big tourist attractions with lots of surveillance cameras. If successful, that would have given the Saudis deniability right from the get-go.

This still raises a question or two, including what Adam Davidson calls the “obvious” one — how did the Saudis get Khashoggi’s clothes off cleanly?

If a body double strategy was part of the plan from the beginning, they might have disabled Khashoggi immediately. Remember that the “fist fight” story only came out later, and no one seriously believes it anyway. If they disabled or stunned him, they could have stripped him immediately, leaving him naked for any interrogation and violence that would have taken place later. It’s only his outer clothes that are seen on camera, so it wouldn’t have taken long to get those off of him.

There are a couple of other holes, however. First off, Madani isn’t exactly a perfect body double. Madani has more hair on his head than Khashoggi, as the comparison of hairlines makes pretty obvious. His gut is more pronounced too, or seems to be in these surveillance videos. Maybe that’s as close as the Saudis could come to a body double, but it’s still not a great match.

The bigger question: if they went to all this trouble to use a body double, why didn’t the Saudis use this video as evidence that Khashoggi left their consulate alive? Ward speculates that the Turks were already ahead of the Saudis on this and they never had the opportunity to make the argument. Perhaps, or maybe the Turks are cooking the footage a bit to make their own case here. But if that was the case, why aren’t the Saudis objecting? Why didn’t they just stick to their claim that Khashoggi left the consulate alive?

Unless the Saudis can poke holes in this video or explain why one of the consulate team was walking around in a fake beard and an extra set of clothing after Khashoggi’s death, it looks fairly damning. It won’t make it any easier for the Trump administration to give Riyadh a face-saving exit from this crisis.

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