With the Jamal Khashoggi grotesque murder by some 18 Saudi agents fading from the public's attention, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan took the opportunity to remind the world that he now has the upper hand in the Middle Eastern balance of power, and said that the order to kill the U.S.-based journalist and Saudi dissident came from the "highest levels" of the Saudi government.
"We know that the perpetrators are among the 18 suspects detained in Saudi Arabia,” Erdogan wrote in a Washington Post op-ed published Friday afternoon. "We also know that those individuals came to carry out their orders: Kill Khashoggi and leave. Finally, we know that the order to kill Khashoggi came from the highest levels of the Saudi government."
Some seem to hope this “problem” will go away in time. But we will keep asking those questions, which are crucial to the criminal investigation in Turkey, but also to Khashoggi’s family and loved ones. A month after his killing, we still do not know where his body is. At the very least, he deserves a proper burial in line with Islamic customs. We owe it to his family and friends, including his former colleagues at The Post, to give them an opportunity to say their goodbyes and pay their respects to this honorable man. To ensure that the world will keep asking the same questions, we have shared the evidence with our friends and allies, including the United States.
"As responsible members of the international community, we must reveal the identities of the puppetmasters behind Khashoggi’s killing and discover those in whom Saudi officials — still trying to cover up the murder — have placed their trust," he concluded.
Still, Erdogan admitted that who exactly "gave the order to kill this kind soul" was among a list of unanswered questions, and while Erdogan did not mention Prince Mohammed in his op-ed, he said that he does not think King Salman gave the order to kill Khashoggi.
“As we continue to look for answers, I would like to stress that Turkey and Saudi Arabia enjoy friendly relations,” he wrote. “I do not believe for a second that King Salman, the custodian of the holy mosques, ordered the hit on Khashoggi. Therefore, I have no reason to believe that his murder reflected Saudi Arabia’s official policy.”
Erdogan also took an indirect jab at Saudi Arabia, the puppetmaster behind the Sept 11 attack, for its involvement in the biggest terrorist attack on US soil, saying that "the murder of Jamal Khashoggi involves a lot more than a group of security officials, just as the Watergate scandal was bigger than a break-in and the 9/11 terror attacks went beyond the hijackers."
After first claiming Khashoggi - a Washington Post columnist critical of the Saudi government who was killed Oct. 2 - left the consulate alive, Saudi officials acknowledged on Oct. 19 that he was killed. At that point, the Saudi government said he was intentionally killed in a physical altercation in an unapproved operation to return to him to Saudi Arabia. Days later, a Saudi prosecutor acknowledged the killing was premeditated.
A Turkish prosecutor said this week that Khashoggi was strangled soon after entering the consulate and that his body was then dismembered and dissolved in acid.
Meanwhile, Mohammed bin Salman, whose name was not mentioned in Erdogan's op-ed but whose picture captioned "Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia at the Pentagon in March" graces the headline, denied any foreknowledge of the plot, but skeptics in the United States and elsewhere are doubtful it could have been carried out without the approval of the kingdom’s day-to-day leader.
Erdogan also said several question remain about the killing, including where his body is and who the supposed “local collaborator” is who the Saudis say was given Khashoggi’s remains.
“Unfortunately, the Saudi authorities have refused to answer those questions,” Erdogan wrote. “Some seem to hope this ‘problem’ will go away in time. But we will keep asking those questions, which are crucial to the criminal investigation in Turkey, but also to Khashoggi’s family and loved ones.”
The president added that Turkey has shared evidence with allies including the United States “to ensure that the world will keep asking the same questions" and warned against committing similar acts on NATO soil again.
The full Washington Post Op-Ed can be read here.