"Preplanned Murder": Turkey Says 15-Member Saudi Hit Team Murdered Journalist Inside Consulate

In a shocking twist to an already mysterious and bizarre saga, Turkish investigators say they believe that prominent Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was murdered inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul after he entered on routine business four days ago

Khashoggi's fiance, who was waiting outside at the time of his disappearance on Tuesday, said he simply never came out. Since that time there's been an international outcry and search for the missing journalist — a Washington Post columnist and former editor of a couple major Saudi newspapers who had a reputation as an outspoken critic of Saudi Arabia's rulers. He was initially widely reported "detained" inside the consul premises by Saudi authorities.

Saudi officials have vehemently denied having ever detained Khashoggi and have repeatedly said he freely left the embassy not long after he entered. The Saudi crown prince (MBS) himself on Friday invited Turkish authorities to enter the building to conduct an investigation, telling Bloomberg: "We are ready to welcome the Turkish government to go and search our premises," he said of the consulate which is Saudi sovereign territory. "We will allow them to enter and search and do whatever they want to do...We have nothing to hide," MBS added.

Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, via the AP

But Turkish police, after initiating their search of the Saudi diplomatic compound on Saturday, unexpectedly reached the following shocking conclusion, according toThe Washington Post:

Turkey has concluded that Jamal Khashoggi, a prominent journalist from Saudi Arabia, was killed in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul earlier this week by a Saudi team sent “specifically for the murder,” two people with knowledge of the probe said Saturday.

Likely this will set off a major diplomatic scandal between Ankara and Riyadh as no doubt the Saudis expected a clean bill of health, otherwise they would have never made such an offer to search the heavily guarded and fortified compound in the first place.

During his Friday interview with Bloomberg crown prince MBS was said to be "exuding confidence" by some observers; however, if confirmed the whole incident could threaten the future of US-Saudi relations. 

Early in the day Saturday Turkey's Anadolu news agency announced the Istanbul public prosecutor's office was formally probing the disappearance, and though yet to reveal any specific evidence to back the murder charge, concluded that a 15-member team “came from Saudi Arabia. It was a preplanned murder,” according to sources privy to the investigation cited in The Washington Post.

The Saudi consulate in Istanbul, via Google Maps/Middle East Eye

The Post noted further of its own disappeared and allegedly murdered columnist:

Khashoggi, who writes for The Washington Post’s Global Opinions section, visited the consulate Tuesday to obtain documents related to his upcoming wedding, according to his fiancee and friends.     

The killing, if confirmed, would mark a stunning escalation of Saudi Arabia’s effort to silence dissent. Under direction from the crown prince, Saudi authorities have carried out hundreds of arrests under the banner of national security, rounding up clerics, business executives and even women’s rights advocates.

Starting in 2016 Arabic media began reporting that Khashoggi had been banned by the Saudi state from writing in newspapers, appearing on TV and attending conferences, after a series of criticisms leveled at Donald Trump at a sensitive time when Riyadh was set to embark on a new and close relationship with the incoming US president. 

Since then, the prominent journalist who had previously served as editor for the popular Arab Times and Al-Watan, increasingly became persona non grata for authorities in the kingdom.

Saudi leadership likely considered his criticisms, which have increased over the past year related to such issues as the arrests of women activists, as especially dangerous due to his speaking from within the Saudi establishment and having been an adviser to a former Saudi intelligence chief

* * *

Meanwhile, on the heels of the bombshell initial reports on Saturday alleging that Khashoggi was murdered, Middle East Eye issued its own report based on sources close to the Turkish probe into the disappearance. The report claims the Saudi journalist was "brutally tortured, killed and cut into pieces" and his body removed from the consulate

The Middle East Eye sources further say there is video tape evidence of the whole murder - a tape subsequently taken out of Turkey via return flight to Saudi Arabia. 

The shocking allegations are detailed as follows

"The initial assessment of the Turkish police is that Mr Khashoggi has been killed at the consulate of Saudi Arabia in Istanbul. We believe that the murder was premeditated and the body was subsequently moved out of the consulate," one of the sources, a Turkish official, said.

A senior Turkish police source told MEE that Khashoggi had been "brutally tortured, killed and cut into pieces. Everything was videotaped to prove the mission had been accomplished and the tape was taken out of the country".

The police said about 15 Saudis, including officials, came to Istanbul on two private flights on Tuesday and were at the consulate at the same time as the journalist. They left again the same day, police added, AFP reported.

We are about to see an explosion of heated diplomatic activity and claims and counterclaims after today's reports, but what is certain is that Jamal Khashoggi is still nowhere to be found. 

developing