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Who is Jamal Khashoggi?

Once considered a Saudi insider, Jamal Khashoggi had fallen sharply out of favor with the Saudi government and went into self-imposed exile last year.

Jamal Khashoggi
Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a columnist for The Washington Post newspaper and a US citizen, apparently went missing after entering the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. (AP Photo)

Saudi Arabia is at the center of a storm ever since journalist Jamal Khashoggi went missing on October 2. While Turkish authorities claim that Khashoggi was murdered within Saudi’s consulate in Istanbul, the Kingdom vehemently denies the claim. US President Donald Trump threatened “severe punishment” if authorities determine Saudi Arabia was behind Khashoggi’s disappearance. Calling the charges “baseless”, Saudi Arabia has also promised to retaliate with “greater actions” to US sanctions.

Once considered a Saudi insider, Khashoggi had fallen sharply out of favour with the Saudi government and went into self-imposed exile last year. Here is why his disappearance has created ripples in the Kingdom.

Who is Jamal Khashoggi?

Jamal Khashoggi is a longtime Saudi journalist, foreign correspondent, editor, and columnist whose work has been controversial in the past in the ultra-conservative Sunni kingdom. As a contributor to Washington Post – where he currently works – Khashoggi has written extensively about Saudi Arabia, including criticising its war in Yemen, its recent diplomatic spat with Canada and its arrest of women’s rights activists after the lifting of a ban on women driving.

A graduate of Indiana State University, Khashoggi began his career in the 1980s, covering the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. He interviewed Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan before al-Qaeda was formed, then met him in Sudan in 1995. In the early 1990s, he tried to persuade bin Laden to reconcile with the Saudi royal family and return home from his base in Sudan, but the al-Qaeda leader refused.


Read | The Prince and the President: Khashoggi Disappearance Raises Tensions

He served as an editor of an Islamist-leaning al-Madina newspaper for nine years and was frequently quoted in the western media as an expert on Islamic radicals and a reformist voice. He also served as media adviser to al-Faisal, a former spy chief, who was at the time the ambassador to the United States.

Fall out with Saudi Arabia

As the clout of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman grew in Saudi Arabia, Khashoggi feared for his life as he was a staunch critic of Prince Mohammed’s policies. He went into self-imposed exile in the United States following the ascension of Prince Mohammed. Khashoggi’s final break with the Saudi authorities followed the Arab Spring protests that swept through the region in 2011 and he went into self-imposed exile in the United States.

“As of now, I would say Mohammed bin Salman is acting like Putin. He is imposing very selective justice,” Khashoggi wrote in the Post last year after he fled the kingdom, saying he feared to return home. He described “dramatic” scenes of arrest of government critics accused of receiving Qatari funding. They included a friend of Khashoggi’s who had just returned from a trip to the U.S. as part of an official Saudi delegation. “That is how breathtakingly fast you can fall out of favor with Saudi Arabia,” he wrote.

Read | What’s known about Saudi writer’s disappearance?

Why did Khashoggi go to Saudi consulate in Istanbul?

He visited the consulate in Istanbul for paperwork to marry his Turkish fiancee – Hatice Cengiz. Surveillance footage later aired on Turkish state television shows Khashoggi walking into the consulate at 1.14 pm on October 2. A little less than two hours later, surveillance footage shows several vehicles with diplomatic license plates move from the consulate to the consul’s home some 2 kilometers away.

Cengiz, who spent hours waiting for Khashoggi outside while holding his mobile phones, says her fiance never walked out of the consulate to meet her. Surveillance footage shows her pacing around outside at 5:33 p.m., speaking on her phone. No footage made public so far has shown Khashoggi walked out of the consulate. The consulate insists the writer left its premises alive, contradicting Turkish officials.