By Kareem Fahim
A spokesman for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling party vowed Saturday that Turkey would “uncover what has happened” to Saudi journalist #JamalKhashoggi, hours after Saudi authorities said that the Washington Post contributing columnist had been killed earlier this month during a fistfight inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.
The Saudi explanation — that an argument in the consulate led to a fatal brawl — is at odds with the conclusions of Turkish investigators, who believe that Khashoggi was deliberately killed by a team of Saudi agents who were dispatched to Istanbul.
“We don’t blame anyone in advance, but we do not consent to this being covered up,” said the ruling party spokesman, Omar Celik, according to the semiofficial Anadolu news agency.
Turkey’s reaction to the Saudi admission is being closely watched because of the conflicting stories and because Turkish authorities are said to possess evidence, including audiotapes, that could reveal exactly how Khashoggi was killed. Erdogan’s government has so far refused to publicly share that evidence, possibly to protect Turkish surveillance methods but also, analysts said, to preserve a measure of leverage over the Saudis and the Trump administration, which has tried to protect its Saudi allies.
Khashoggi, a resident of Virginia, vanished on the afternoon of Oct. 2, after visiting the Saudi Consulate to obtain documents that would allow him to remarry. For weeks, Saudi Arabia had denied any knowledge of his whereabouts and insisted that he had walked out of the consulate unharmed. The denials became harder to maintain as the Turkish authorities leaked investigative details, many lurid, about the case to the local and international news media.
The Saudi story changed early Saturday, when the government acknowledged for the first time that Khashoggi, who had written columns for The Post critical of the Saudi leadership, was dead. Saudi authorities said they had fired five top officials and arrested 18 other Saudi nationals as a result of the preliminary investigation. Two of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s close advisers were among those fired.
President Trump appeared to initially accept the Saudi explanation, but U.S. lawmakers, intelligence officials and foreign policy experts quickly accused the government in Riyadh of a coverup.
“This is an admission of guilt, but the Saudis still aren’t coming clean with the truth,” Sen. Jack Reed (R.I.), the ranking Democrat on the Armed Services committee, said in a statement. “The Saudi’s latest version of events still isn’t credible, and the Trump administration must not be complicit in allowing them to sweep this under the rug.”
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said the Saudi version of events changes “with each passing day, so we should not assume their latest story holds water.”
But the kingdom’s allies closest Arab allies, including the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt, quickly pledged their support. Saudi Arabia’s preliminary investigation “demonstrates the Kingdom’s keenest and commitment to finding the truth of this incident and taking the required legal action against those involved,” Egypt’s foreign ministry said in a statement.
Turkish investigators are still searching for Khashoggi’s body, which they believe was cut into pieces after he was killed. The Saudi statements on Saturday did not address what happened to the body.
“This is not over. It is just starting,” said Fatih Oke, a representative of the Turkish Arab Media Association, speaking on Saturday at a news conference in front of the Saudi consulate in Istanbul held by Khashoggi’s supporters.
“We want justice for Jamal,” he said. “We want Jamal’s murderers to be punished. However we want punishments not only for the 18 men, but also for the authorities that gave the orders.”
– The Washington Post