In the past few weeks, the mysterious disappearing of a Saudi journalist has taken international media by storm. People are questioning the events that led to and followed his alleged kidnap and the probable hand of Saudi Arabia in the whole fiasco.
There are three main parties to this issue – Saudi Arabia, Turkey and US – each of them placing blame on the other. But while attacks on media persons has long tainted Saudi’s history of freedom of speech, this particular incident has become highly popular. Here’s why.
Who was the journalist?
Jamal Khashoggi was a long-time journalist, foreign correspondent and columnist from Saudi Arabia. He was known for his close ties with the Saudi king and even served as an adviser to top Saudi officials. Over the years, however, he turned critical of the government, writing extensively about Saudi’s war in Yemen and its politics with Qatar, its recent diplomatic spat with Canada and its arrest of women’s rights activists. He published controversial columns about the ultra-conservative Sunni kingdom.
Afraid that his ruck with the government would spell danger to his life, he went into self-imposed exile in 2017, and became a permanent resident of the United States. He later joined the Washington Post critiquing the policies of the crown Prince following the ascension of Prince Mohammed bin Salman through his columns
Apart from his wrangle with the Saudi government, Khashoggi was also known for his interviews and travels with Osama bin Laden between 1987 and 1995, including in Afghanistan, where he wrote about the battle against the Soviet occupation. In the early 1990s, he tried to persuade bin Laden to reconcile with the Saudi royal family and return home from his base in Sudan, but the al-Qaida leader refused.
What happened to him?
On 28th September, Khashoggi went to the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey seeking documents so he could marry his Turkish fiancee, Hatice Cengiz. He was told to return to the consulate on 2nd October to pick up those documents, which is when he disappeared. Here’s a timeline of the events that followed.
13:14: Khashoggi enters the building.
15:10: Vehicles leave the consulate and are filmed arriving at the nearby Saudi consul’s residence.
17:15: A second private jet carrying a number of suspected Saudi officials lands in Istanbul.
17:30: Khashoggi’s fiancée, Hatice Cengiz, is seen on CCTV waiting outside the consulate.
18:20: One of the private jets departs from Istanbul airport. The final plane leaves at 21:00.
What is Turkey saying?
Turkish officials have said that they fear Saudi Arabia killed Khashoggi. They claim they have audio and video recordings of Khashoggi being interrogated and killed by Saudi agents. They believe the dead body was then chopped into pieces making it difficult to find the body or any post-mortem evidence. However, no such recordings have been released publicly so far. But the nation is threatening to release the videos if Saudi didn’t cooperate with them in the search for Khashoggi.
Pro-government newspapers have released names and photographs of a 15-member team of suspected Saudi agents who (on killing orders from Saudi’s government) flew into and out of Istanbul on the day of the disappearance. One of the men was a post-mortem expert, while another, Maher Mutreb, served as a colonel in Saudi intelligence and was based at the country’s embassy in London.
Turkish media has also released a series of videos, apparently taken from surveillance cameras, showing the alleged Saudi agents arriving on private jets the day Khashoggi disappeared, checking into and out of hotels near the consulate, and then flying out that night. One of the videos also shows vehicles to have taken some of the agents from the consulate to the nearby residence of the Saudi consul about two hours after Khashoggi’s arrival.
What is Saudi Arabia saying?
Saudi Arabia has offered no explanation for how the writer could have left the consulate and disappeared into Istanbul as his fiancee stood outside waiting for him.
Saudi interior minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Saud has termed the allegations of “orders to kill Khashoggi” outright lies.
Meanwhile, Saudi media has started referring to the alleged 15-man team as “tourists”, without providing evidence to support the claim. It has also tried to blame the crisis on Qatar, saying that the Qatari-funded Al-Jazeera has given unnecessarily extensive focus on Khashoggi’s disappearance over the last week. Even Khashoggi’s son has issued a public statement that his father’s disappearance has been “politicised” by foreign parties.
What is the US saying?
President Donald Trump initially threatened Saudi with “severe punishments” if investigations by Turkey officials revealed Saudi hand in the incident. He called for sanctions against individual Saudi officials if evidence linked them to the journalist’s disappearance.
At the same time he also said that he wanted to maintain defence and arms ties with Riyadh which is why he wanted to give them benefit of doubt. Which is why, few days later, after having a personal meeting with Prince Salman, he spoke in favour of Saudi – saying that Khashoggi’s assignation could be carried out by rogue killers.
Either way, Trump’s statements are wary of both public outcry against Khashoggi’s death and trade ties with Saudi Arabia. As of now, a Saudi team has arrived in Turkey to investigate Khashoggi’s disappearance – results of which will soon be out.