HALIFAX — Turkey’s Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said Saturday that the team sent to kill Saudi journalist and dissident Jamal Khashoggi may have carried his dismembered body parts through Istanbul’s international airport.
At the Halifax International Security Forum, an annual gathering of leading defense officials from around the world, Akar said it was “possible” that 18 men — not 15, as originally assumed — carried out the operation. They could get away with smuggling parts of the Washington Post columnist’s body through the airport because as diplomats they wouldn’t be searched by security, the minister noted.
If you thought the Khashoggi story was already crazy, it somehow just got crazier.
The weirdly coy revelation comes just one day after multiple news outlets reported the CIA has determined Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the country’s de facto leader known as MBS, ordered Khashoggi’s death — a charge he and the kingdom deny.
It’s not so surprising that Akar would make such a bold statement. Since Khashoggi’s murder on October 2 at a Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey has leaked intelligence of the incident to international media and shared recordings with allied governments, including the United States.
Turkey and Saudi Arabia are locked in a years-long battle for the future of the region, particularly over the importance of religion and Western influence in its politics. Bashing Saudi Arabia over the Khashoggi affair — specifically MBS — therefore works well for Turkey. It gives Ankara a momentary, but no less critical, advantage in the struggle.
But the US apparently will stay by Saudi Arabia’s ruling family. On Thursday, the Trump administration sanctioned 17 Saudis allegedly connected to Khashoggi’s murder — but none of them were MBS.
Akar didn’t fully confirm the claim he made. But if it’s true, it would show the Saudi operation was far bolder than known to date. It’s therefore possible that further information — perhaps even more stunning — will soon come out.