Prosecutor says Khashoggi was strangled and dismembered, but fate of body still a mystery
October 31 at 6:27 PM
ISTANBUL â" Turkeyâs top prosecutor on Wednesday laid out the most detailed description yet of how the journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed, saying ÂSaudi agents strangled him almost immediately after he entered the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul and then dismembered his body.
But the new information did not address the question that has bedeviled investigators and been the subject of furious speculation: What happened to Khashoggiâs remains?
A senior Turkish official said in an interview that Turkish authorities are pursuing a theory that Khashoggiâs dismembered body was destroyed in acid on the grounds of the Saudi Consulate or at the nearby residence of the Saudi consul general. Biological evidence discovered in the consulate garden supports the theory that Khashoggiâs body was disposed of close to where he was kille d and dismembered, the official said.
âKhashoggiâs body was not in need of burying,â said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive investigation.
While Saudi officials now acknowledge that Khashoggi was killed inside the consulate on Oct. 2, all they have said about his body is that the assailants gave it to a âlocal collaboratorâ for disposal.
The senior Turkish official said Turkish investigators do not believe such a figure exists.
Saudi Arabiaâs top prosecutor, Saud al-Mojeb, leaves his countryâs consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 30, 2018. (Can Erok/AP)
A second senior Turkish official said that Saudi Arabiaâs top prosecutor, Saud al-Mojeb, who completed a three-day visit to Istanbul on Wednesday, did not provide the location of Khashoggiâs body or identify any âlocal collaborator.â
Since Mojeb arrived in Turkey on Monday, âSaudi officials seemed primarily interested in finding out what evidence the Turkish authorities had against the perpetrators,â the Turkish official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss private law enforcement contacts. âWe did not get the impression that they were keen on genuinely cooperating with the investigation.â
Turkish prosecutor Irfan Fidan issued his public description of the killing shortly after Mojeb left Istanbul, amid mounting Turkish complaints about a lack of Saudi cooperation.
Fidan said Khashoggi was âstrangled as soon as he entered the consulateâ in line with âpremeditated plans.â The body, âafter being strangled, was subsequently destroyed by being dismembered, once again confirming the planning of the murder,â Fidan said.
The Turkish statement used the word âbogulmak,â which can also mean suffocation.
Turkish official s say members of a 15-man hit team dispatched from Saudi Arabia killed Khashoggi inside the consulate before flying out of Turkey later the same day. The Turkish government says it has an audio recording of what transpired inside the mission. Although Turkish officials have played the audio for CIA officials, including Director Gina Haspel, Turkish officials have not released the audio to the public.
[CIA director briefs president on audio purportedly capturing the killing of Jamal Khashoggi]
Saudi Arabia has provided shifting explanations about what happened to Khashoggi, a Saudi citizen, contributing columnist to The Washington Post and critic of the Saudi leadership, including the de facto Saudi ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. For more than two weeks, Saudi authorities repeatedly denied any knowledge of Khashoggiâs whereabouts, then abruptly changed their account, blaming the killing on agents acting outside the Saudi governmentâs authority.
Turk ish investigators initially focused their search for Khashoggiâs body in two wooded areas outside Istanbul, guided in part by surveillance footage that Turkish authorities said showed Saudi diplomatic vehicles apparently scouting Belgrad Forest the night before the journalist was killed.
Last week, investigators suspended the search, focusing instead on the consulateâs grounds and the consul generalâs residence. The search focused in particular on a well on consular property, where the assailants could have disposed of Khashoggiâs dissolved remains, the first senior Turkish official said.
Investigators last week also inspected the sewer system near the consulate, according to Turkeyâs state-run Anadolu news agency.
Turkish officials, including President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, have repeatedly complained that Saudi Arabia is hampering the investigation by refusing to provide critical pieces of information, including the location of Khashoggiâs body. Tur key has also requested the extradition of 18 suspects who the Saudi government says have been arrested in the case.
Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said the suspects will be tried in domestic courts.
On Wednesday, a Saudi official said the kingdom had not officially concluded that Khashoggiâs death was premeditated. âThe public prosecutor has acknowledged seeing that information from the Turkish side. We have not said if that is true or not true. We are waiting for the results of the investigation,â the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not permitted to speak to the media.
The journalistâs death and the inconsistent Saudi explanations of his killing have unleashed a storm of international criticism, placing President Trump in a difficult situation. In addition to being a major purchaser of American weapons, Saudi Arabia sits at the heart of the administrationâs strategy in the Middle East, in particular U.S. e fforts to counter what Washington says are Iranâs expansionist policies.
Trump has said he is ânot satisfiedâ with the Saudi explanations of Khashoggiâs death. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has warned that the crisis could affect regional stability. But there are few indications that Khashoggiâs death will fundamentally alter the relationship between the two nations.
On Wednesday, a group of Republican senators called on Trump to suspend negotiations for a U.S.-Saudi civil nuclear agreement.
They cited Khashoggiâs death, as well as Riyadhâs policies toward Lebanon and Yemen, as cause for âserious concerns about the transparency, accountability and judgment of current decision-makers.â
Although the Turkish announcement Wednesday appeared to partly illuminate what happened to Khashoggi, several central questions remain, including who ordered his killing and whether the crown prince was aware of the operation. While Riyadh has pai nted the killing as a rogue plot, Western officials say it is unlikely that something this complex could have been carried out without Mohammedâs knowledge.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Wednesday that his government would take ânecessary measuresâ against those responsible for the journalistâs death.
âSo long as those who are responsible and the circumstances around the killing are not made public, released and evaluated, we will go on demanding the truth,â he said.
Zeynep Karatas in Istanbul and Kevin Sullivan in Riyadh contributed to this report.
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