Outside the Bubble

Details emerge in Khashoggi case

[CW: This article discusses violence.]

In an event that shocked the world, journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who moved to the United States after being threatened by the Saudi government for his criticisms of the kingdom, entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to pick up his marriage license on Tuesday, Oct. 2, and never came out. After originally denying that Khashoggi had been killed in the consulate, arguing instead that he had left before he died, Saudi officials announced his death on Friday, Oct. 19, claiming that he was killed there in a fistfight. However, Turkish officials are skeptical, believing that he was murdered and dismembered (BBC, “Khashoggi death: Saudi Arabia says journalist was murdered,” 10.22.2018).

According to video evidence, accomplice Mustafa al-Madani, a Saudi national and member of the 15-person team suspected in the incident, left the consulate dressed as the journalist, spurring rumors that the Saudi government organized the alleged murder. Analysts examined images of the double from the videos and found multiple body differences as well as the fact that the double wore different shoes than Khashoggi had been wearing when he entered the consulate (The Washington Post, “New footage appears to show Saudi suspect wearing Jamal Khashoggi’s clothing,” 10.22.2018).

Turkish investigators also claim that they have audio and video evidence that Khashoggi was murdered by Saudi agents, and they are currently searching for his body. Since then, Saudi officials have arrested 18 people, indicated they would set up an organization to reform the intelligence agency and have given protection to Khashoggi’s fiancée. While President Trump and Senior Advisor to the President Jared Kushner have wavered over whether or not they believe the video to be true, leaders of countries including France, Germany and the United Kingdom are suspicious. In a joint statement, the leaders argued, “There remains an urgent need for clarification of exactly what happened on 2 October – beyond the hypotheses that have been raised so far in the Saudi investigation, which need to be backed by facts to be considered credible” (The Guardian, “Jamal Khashoggi death: give us the facts, western countries tell Saudis,” 10.21.2018).

The relationship between Trump and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman complicates the matter. Though Trump sent C.I.A. Director Gina Haspel to Istanbul to help with the investigation, he continues to support the U.S. alliance with Saudi Arabia despite popular opinion that the Crown Prince was involved in planning the murder. Trump’s main motivations for his neutrality seem to be the $110-billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia and other American business ties to the country. However, some feel that this act effectively supports Khashoggi’s murder by ignoring it (The New York Times, “On Jamal Khashoggi Killing, Trump Administration Sends Mixed Signals,” 10.22.2018).

In contrast, other countries have reacted with outrage to the Khashoggi case. International responses include German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s announcement that she would stop exporting arms to Saudi Arabia and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s threat to end a multi-billion dollar contract with Gulf nation. However, some countries, such as Egypt and Kuwait, support Saudi Arabia’s claim that they were not involved in Khashoggi’s death (BBC, “Khashoggi death”).

Saudi Minister of Foreign Affairs Adel alJubeir announced on Oct. 21, “Unfortunately, a huge and grave mistake was made and I assure them that those responsible will be held accountable for this.” His remark was met with doubt, as most Western countries feel that Saudi Arabia mishandled the ordeal by first claiming that Khashoggi was not killed in the consulate and then sending out a body double (The Guardian, “Jamal Khashoggi death”).

On Tuesday, Oct. 23, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan laid out the alleged conspiracy in a public address that coincided with the start of an investment conference; while Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attended the event, around 40 government and business leaders boycotted amid the murder allegations (BBC, “Saudi summit begins amid boycott,” 10.23.2018). During his address, Erdogan demanded that Saudi Arabia reveal details of the incident (BBC, “Khashoggi murder planned days ahead, says Turkey’s Erdogan,” 10.23.2018).

According to Erdogan, 15 Saudi officials entered the Istanbul consulate at staggered times to kill Khashoggi and, according to intelligence, they sent reconnaissance to the areas outside the city where investigators are now searching for the body. Erdogan stated, “This murder might have been committed at a consulate building which may be considered Saudi Arabian land, but it rests within the borders of Turkey” (The New York Times, “Erdogan Says Saudis Planned Khashoggi’s Killing in Turkey,” 10.23.2018).

The disappearance and apparent murder of Khashoggi has rocked the world, and is bound to have polarizing political repercussions. More evidence will likely arise as the investigation and body search continues, but until then, the main question seems to be whether or not the Crown Prince was involved. The Saudi government staunchly maintains its innocence: Jubeir stated that the agents were not closely tied to the Crown Prince and that senior intelligence was unaware of the operation, asserting, “This is an aberration, this is a mistake, this is a criminal act, and those responsible for it will be punished” (The Washington Post, “Saudi attempts to distance crown prince from Khashoggi killing haven’t quieted uproar,” 10.21.2018).

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