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Turkey’s president undercuts Saudi Arabia’s Khashoggi story

Recep Tayyip Erdogan offers a timeline to make the case that Khashoggi’s brutal murder was planned and premeditated.

Erdogan Addresses Khashoggi Killing in Speech to Turkish Parliament
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses the murder of Jamal Khashoggi on October 23, 2018.
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Jen Kirby is a senior foreign and national security reporter at Vox, where she covers global instability.

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan had promised on Sunday to reveal “in full nakedness” what happened to Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who disappeared inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2.

On Tuesday, Erdogan presented a detailed account of the events surrounding the journalists’ murder by Saudi officials, calling it a “planned” hit.

“It is clear that this savage murder did not happen instantly but was planned,” Erdogan said during an address to the Turkish Parliament, according to the New York Times.

The Turkish president insinuated that the Saudi government had plotted for days to kill the journalist by presenting a clear timeline, though Erdogan didn’t address some of the most explosive claims that have been circulating in the media — that Khashoggi had been dismembered and beheaded and that Turkish officials have an audio recording of his murder.

Erdogan’s account fully contradicts the Saudi government narrative that Khashoggi was killed in a “rogue operation” gone awry. But he stopped short of calling out Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (MBS), the country’s de facto leader, by name.

“It will not satisfy the public [to pin] this kind of matter on a few security and intelligence officers,” Erdogan said during a weekly address to the Turkish Parliament. “Covering up this kind of savagery will hurt the conscience of all humanity.”

Erdogan’s speech clashes with the official Saudi narrative about what happened to Khashoggi

Erdogan insinuated that the Saudis began plotting against Khashoggi days before his death.

According to Erdogan, the journalist first visited the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to obtain papers for his upcoming wedding on September 28. After his visit, some Saudi consular staff flew to Saudi Arabia.

Then, Erdogan says, Saudi agents began returning to Turkey on October 1 — the day before Khashoggi disappeared — and casing areas outside of Istanbul.

Erdogan said that this was “reconnaissance” work and that Turkish officials had searched these areas to uncover Khashoggi’s body.

Erdogan also claimed that a Saudi team had arrived at the consulate and removed a hard disk from the CCTV there, implying that it may have contained evidence that officials didn’t want anyone to see.

The Saudi narrative, however, is quite different.

After weeks of denying any involvement in Khashoggi’s disappearance, Saudi officials said on Friday that a group of 15 men confronted Khashoggi inside the consulate to convince him to return back to Saudi Arabia. A fistfight erupted, they said, and Khashoggi died in the process. At least 18 Saudis have been arrested in connection to the case, which a Saudi official called a “tremendous mistake.”

This purported sequence of events has been met with skepticism, and leaves many questions unanswered, such as what happened to Khashoggi’s body. New details have also leaked — mostly from Turkish officials — that contradict this idea of a altercation, including surveillance footage that shows a Saudi official leaving the consulate dressed as Khashoggi body double a few hours after Khashoggi himself entered the the building on October 2.

The Turkish president didn’t address any of the more lurid details of Khashoggi’s murder in his speech. His goal, instead, seemed aimed at undercutting the Saudi story that the murder had happened by accident.

Erdogan, who has a long record of cracking down on journalists and the free press himself, has a couple reasons to challenge Saudi Arabia. Turkey sees the kingdom as a competitor on the world stage, and Erdogan is trying to brandish his leadership both in the Muslim world, the region, and on the world stage.

Erdogan tread carefully during his speech and did not call out MBS by name. But he dispensed with the idea that Khashoggi’s murder was the work of a few rogue Saudi officers. He made it clear that Turkey would pursue this case — and called for the suspects to face prosecution in Istanbul, rather than Riyadh. Erdogan, in other words, is not going to let Khashoggi’s death quietly disappear.

“This assassination happened in our country,” Erdogan said. “We will be following up on both the bilateral level and the international level.”