The mystery of Jamal Khashoggi
A Saudi journalist walks into a consulate and never comes out. He is believed to have been dismembered. Why?
As Jamal Khashoggi prepared to enter the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2, a squad of men from Saudi Arabia who Turkish investigators suspect played a role in his disappearance was ready and in place.
They had arrived from Riyadh, the Saudi capital, early that morning and checked in at two international hotels in Istanbul before driving to the consulate in the leafy Levent neighbourhood.
By the end of the day, the 15-member Saudi team had conducted its business and left the country, departing on planes bound for Cairo and Dubai, according to flight records and people familiar with the investigation.
Turkish officials believe that Khashoggi, a prominent journalist and critic of the Saudi Government, was killed and dismembered inside the consulate to conceal murder.
They have identified one of the 15 Saudis as a forensic expert known for pioneering rapid and mobile autopsies, Salah Muhammed al-Tubaigy.
Tubaigy, 47, wears two hats in Saudi Arabia. He is a top professor in the criminal evidence department at Naif Arab University for Security Sciences, where he presides over master thesis classes on identifying bones through DNA analysis and how the use of formaldehyde limits genetic tissue analysis.
But Tubaigy is also close to Saudi security operations, teaching and providing expert opinions on evidence collection and investigation. In 2014, he convinced Saudi officials to let him help design and buy a $2.5 million, tractor-trailer size autopsy lab to accompany Muslims on the hajj to Mecca.
Seven of the 15 identify themselves in social media profiles or published accounts as members of Saudi military.
The alleged presence of Tubaigy, who has taught and published papers on gathering DNA evidence and dissecting human bodies, amplifies the macabre narrative put forth by the Turkish investigators, a narrative denied by Saudi Arabia, who says Khashoggi walked out of the consulate on K his own. hashoggi was once a Saudi insider who served as a close aide to the kingdom’s former spy chief before turning into a vocal critic of the regime.
He was long considered one of Saudi’s most prominent journalists, working in the field since the 1980s and serving stints as the former editor of the Saudi al-Watan and Arab News newspapers and at a Saudi TV news channel.
He covered the rise of Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan in the 1980s, which led to him becoming a valuable source of information in the aftermath of the al-Qaida-instigated September 11 attacks on the US in 2001.
But more recently he was known as a fierce critic of the kingdom’s leadership, particularly Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, speaking out against the continued arrest of critics on both the Left and Right.
In 2017, Khashoggi left Saudi Arabia and lived in exile in the US, reportedly because he feared for his safety and for the dwindling freedom of speech under the rule of the Crown Prince, who for more than a year has been purging his critics.
Wealthy members of the royal family have had their assets confiscated. Critics have died in mysterious helicopter crashes. Other have been beheaded; their bodies left in B public. efore Khashoggi’s disappearance, US intelligence had intercepted communications of Saudi officials discussing a plan to capture him, according to a person familiar with the information.
The Saudis reportedly wanted to lure Khashoggi back to Saudi Arabia and lay hands on him there. It was not clear whether they intended to arrest and interrogate Khashoggi or kill him, or if the US warned Khashoggi that he was a target.
Khashoggi, 59, was in Turkey and visited the consulate to finalise his divorce, so he could marry his Turkish fiancee Hatice Cengiz. The couple had planned to live both in Istanbul and the US.
According to flight records, two privately owned planes flying from Riyadh arrived in Istanbul on October 2, one before sunrise and the other in the late afternoon. A Turkish official linked the call signals of the two Gulfstream planes to those that investigators believe carried the 15 Saudis. The planes are owned by Riyadh-based Sky Prime Aviation Services, according to public records.
Flight data collected by AirNavRadarBox, a firm that tracks private and commercial planes all over the world, shows that the first of the two planes left Riyadh late on October 1 and touched down in Istanbul the following day at 3.15am.
The squad checked into the Movenpick, one of the people
with knowledge of the investigation said. Management at the five-star hotel said they were not allowed to confirm nor deny that the group had checked in or that their hotel was part of the investigation. A hotel worker confirmed that the group did check in.
This first plane was carrying the part of the Saudi team that was awaiting Khashoggi at the consulate, investigators believe, when he arrived at 1.14 pm to collect a document he needed for his upcoming marriage.
Turkey’s Government says it has seen no evidence supporting the Saudi claim that Khashoggi ever left the consulate alive.
Turkish police operate at least one camera at the front of the building. Investigators have also examined footage that covers the rear of the mission.
“It’s clear he did not exit,” said one Turkish official with knowledge of the investigation.
Behind a gate next to the front entrance is a covered carport, out of the view of cameras. From that garage, two vehicles exited about two hours after Khashoggi entered the consulate, according to one of the people briefed on the investigation. One of the cars was a Mercedes that had earlier pulled up in front of the Saudi Consul-General’s residence.
Flight data shows that a second private jet, believed by investigators to be transporting the rest of the team, touched down in Istanbul at 5.15pm. It is unclear whether those on board travelled to either the consulate or the residence. It departed an hour and 15 minutes after it arrived, heading for Cairo. Twenty-five hours after its arrival in Cairo, the plane left for Riyadh.
The initial plane left Istanbul at 10.45pm and made a stop about 400km to the east in Nallihan, Turkey. Then it skirted the border between Iraq and Iran, favouring the Iraqi side, and crossed over the Persian Gulf. It landed in Dubai at 2.30am. The following morning, October 3, it took off for Riyadh.
Turkish officials have revealed they have audio of an interrogation and beating inside the consulate on that day.
They are adamant Khashoggi is dead.
Security guards at the consulate.