Jamal Khashoggi, the US-based Saudi journalist who mysteriously went missing on October 2, has finally been declared dead by the Saudi government. The western world has been on the boil ever since a Turkish source revealed that Khashoggi was killed when he went to the Saudi consulate in Turkey on October 2. After denying the information for over two weeks, the Saudi government finally admitted on October 20 that the journalist was killed in a ‘fist fight’ at the Saudi consulate in Turkey.
Here’s a look at the developments in the case so far.
Who is Jamal Khashoggi?
Saudi-born Khashoggi was a prominent journalist who shifted to the US last year after alleging ‘threat to life’ in the Kingdom for his moderate views on religion. A graduate of Indiana State University, Khashoggi began his career in the 1980s, covering the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and the decade-long war that followed for the English-language daily Saudi Gazette. He travelled extensively in the Middle East, covering Algeria’s 1990s war against Islamic militants, and the rise of Islamic militancy in Sudan.
His breakthrough moment came when he interviewed 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan before al-Qaida was formed, and then met him in Sudan in 1995. This interview helped him become a close aide to the powerful former Saudi spy chief, Turki Al-Faisal.
Khashoggi worked as a prominent figure in Saudi media and held many important designations during his stay in the Kingdom. He was regarded as a moderate Islamist and was frequently quoted in the Western media as an expert on Islamic radicals and a reformist voice. He served as an editor for nine years on the Islamist-leaning al-Madina newspaper. In 2003 and in 2007, Khashoggi was appointed the editor of the Saudi newspaper Al Watan but lost his job on both occasions after publishing criticism of religious extremism. In 2015, he launched a TV network, Al-Arab but it was shut down within days.
For decades, he was close to the Saudi royal family and also served as an adviser to the government. But he fell out of favour and went into self-imposed exile in the US last year from where he wrote a monthly column in the Washington Post, criticising the policies of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
In his first column for the newspaper, Khashoggi had said he feared being arrested after Prince Mohammed bin Salman became first in line to succeed his father King Salman, hinting at the former’s extreme disliking for dissent.
Why was he at the consulate?
Khashoggi first visited the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on September 28 to obtain a document certifying that he had divorced his ex-wife so that he could marry Hatice Cengiz, his Turkish fiance.
He reportedly said he was treated very warmly by the people at the consulate and believed no harm could be done to him on the Turkish soil.
He again visited the place on October 2 and did not return after that. The CCTV footage of the area showed him entering the place at 13:14 local time but did not show him leaving the place.
His fiance, who waited for him for over 10 hours outside the consulate, reached out to the authorities to start search operations for him. She even wrote a letter to US President Donald Trump, who acknowledged the same in his first reaction over the issue.
Murder allegations surface
The US and Turkish media, quoting some unnamed government sources, speculated that Khashoggi had indeed been murdered inside the consulate on the orders of the Saudi government. Some Turkish media also brought out audio-tapes related to the incident, featuring the alleged abduction and torture of Khashoggi.
The Kingdom, however, denied the allegations. Days after the incident, Prince Mohammed Bin Salman told Bloomberg News in an interview that Khashoggi had left the consulate shortly after entering it and that he was ready to let Turkey search the building.
Turkey, however, remained wary of Saudi’s stance. Expressing his distrust over the Saudi government’s statement, President Tayyip Erdogan had said, “We have to get an outcome from this investigation as soon as possible. The consulate officials cannot save themselves by simply saying ‘he has left’.”
Khashoggi’s disappearance also threatened to degrade the relations between Saudi Arabia and Turkey, which were already strained after Turkey sent troops to Qatar last year in a show of support after its Gulf neighbours, including Saudi Arabia, imposed sanctions on Doha. Turkey’s proximity to the Muslim Brotherhood also makes it going against the Saudis, who count the organisation among terror outfits.
Crown Prince Salman, however, sent a security team to Ankara to assist the Turkish agencies in the search operations.
In his first reaction on the matter, US President Donald Trump said he had talked to the Kingdom more than once over the issue and that he is ready to demand every answer from the Saudis.
“I’m not happy about it,” Trump had said. “We want to see what’s going on there. That’s a bad situation. Frankly, because it’s a reporter, you could say in many respects, it brings it to a level. It’s a very serious situation for us,” AP quoted Trump as saying.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo too called for support from the Turkish authorities in the matter. He also met King Salman and discussed the matter at length with him.
The Trump government, however, faced a backlash from sections of media for not being harsh on the matter with the Saudis. Reacting to such calls, Trump said, “Here we go again with you’re guilty until proven innocent,” Trump told AP as he compared the allegations against Saudi Arabia to the sexual misconduct allegations against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh which threatened his escalation to the top post earlier.
He also said “that would be bad” if Saudi Arabia’s King and Crown Prince knew about the suspected killing of Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate.
Under tremendous pressure from lawmakers, Trump also mulled over imposing sanctions on Saudis and warned of ‘severe punishment’ if the Crown is found involved in the matter. However, he again pushed back any effort to cancel the mega USD-110 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia, asserting that such a move would hurt US economy and jobs.
Confirmation of death
Saudi Arabia confirmed on October 20 that Khashoggi was killed in a ‘fist fight’ which broke out between him and the people in the consulate. It also said it has fired two of its senior officials, royal court adviser Saud al-Qahtani and deputy intelligence chief Ahmed Asiri, in the matter besides arresting 18 others.
The Kingdom, however, shielded the Crown Prince from the matter, stating he was not aware of the matter. Calling the killing of Khashoggi at its Istanbul consulate a “huge and grave mistake”, Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir told US broadcaster Fox, “This was an operation that was a rogue operation. This was an operation where individuals ended up exceeding the authorities and responsibilities they had.”
The Kingdom also called over Khashoggi’s son Salah and condoled his father’s demise.
Reacting to the news, Trump said the arrests made by Saudi were a “good first step” but he would not be satisfied until he gets all the answers. “No, I am not satisfied until we find the answer. But it was a big first step, it was a good first step. But I want to get to the answer,” Reuters quoted him as saying.
There are reports in Turkish media that Khashoggi’s body was chopped into pieces and taken in a black vehicle outside the consulate. The reports have not been verified yet.
Erdogan too has promised that within 48 hours he would remove the lid entirely from what his spokesmen are now calling a Saudi cover-up. “We will reveal it,” his quote published in New York Times read. “It will be revealed in full nakedness.”