By Enes Canli
ANKARA (AA) – Since Oct. 2 when Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi went missing in the Riyadh's Consulate in Istanbul, the statements by the Kingdom followed a rhetoric extending from "denial to confession".
Saudi Arabia initially claimed Khashoggi left the diplomatic building alive and they had "no responsibility" in the incident.
Cornered by pressure piled by Turkey and the international community since Khashoggi's disappearance and emerging evidence, it finally had to confess Khashoggi was murdered in the consulate and his body dismembered.
– Contradictory statements
Ever since the day Washington Post columnist was brutally murdered, the issue has been one of the hottest topics of the global media.
Saudi Arabia has issued a number of contradictory statements. The evidence provided by Turkey and global pressure in this context forced Riyadh to withdraw and correct its statements one by one.
Despite that Riyadh insistently alleged that Khashoggi left the building, as a result of the evidence emerging one after another, it later accepted that Khashoggi "died in a brawl".
Having failed to unveil the murder of Khashoggi for one-and-a-half months after, Riyadh made another statement: "Khashoggi was killed by lethal injection dose, his body was dismembered and taken out of the consulate."
Due to the fact that Saudi Arabia made contradictory and unsatisfactory statements since the very beginning, the answers to the questions such as "who gave the order of Khashoggi's murder" and "where is the body?" remain a mystery.
– No recording on his exit
Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, who quickly climbed the steps of administration after his father became king, also the highest-profile official from the Kingdom to comment on the issue, said three days after Khashoggi's disappearance: "My understanding is he entered and he got out after a few minutes or one hour. I'm not sure."
Khalid bin Salman, the brother of the crown prince who is the Saudi Arabia's Ambassador to Washington, rejected the allegations regarding the murder of Khashoggi in the consulate.
In addition, the Saudi consul general insisted Khashoggi left the building but the cameras were broken, he even called journalists to the diplomatic building to prove Khashoggi was not there.
Turkish security officials revealed that 15 Saudi nationals were present in the consulate when Khashoggi was there.
Despite assertions by Saudi officials, who rejected Khashoggi was killed in the consulate on any occasion, told Turkish authorities they were ready to collaborate, they never rushed to make progressions on the investigation.
Riyadh said it had "nothing to hide," nevertheless it took two weeks for the joint investigation team, including Turkish and Saudi officials, to enter the building.
While the investigation squads were entering the consulate, Saudi Arabia's consul general Mohammad Al-Otaibi left Turkey under diplomatic protection.
The same day, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was being hosted by King Salman. According to the Saudi Press Agency, the official news agency of Saudi Arabia, Khashoggi's murder was not discussed. On the other hand, the U.S. State Department noted the king and Pompeo discussed Khashoggi.
U.S. President Donald Trump, who regularly evaluates the global agenda on his social media account, said: "Just spoke with the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia who totally denied any knowledge of what took place in their Turkish Consulate. He was with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during the call and told me that he has already started, and will rapidly expand, a full and complete investigation into this matter. Answers will be forthcoming shortly."
– 'Died in a brawl'
In the light of evidence provided by Turkey, Riyadh, 18 days after Khashoggi went missing, unlike high-level statements by two sons of the king, had to accept that the journalist was murdered in the consulate of Saudi Arabia.
Riyadh admitted Khashoggi was killed during a "brawl" but the murder was not premeditated. No statements were made on the whereabouts of the body.
Saudi Arabia announced 18 Saudi nationals were arrested in connection with the murder.
Moreover, following a royal decree, Saudi Arabia discharged five senior officials, including Saud al-Qahtani and Ahmed Asiri, a royal court advisor seen as the right-hand man to bin Salman, and the deputy intelligence chief, respectively.
The same royal decree stated a "supreme intelligence commission" was established so that a similar incident would not occur and the crown prince would lead it.
Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir, in an interview with American Fox News, said Prince Salman had no "knowledge or responsibility" regarding the killing.
– Unsatisfactory statements
Late and limited statements by Riyadh did not satisfy the international community.
A joint statement by the U.K., Germany and France read: "There remains an urgent need for clarification of exactly what happened on October 2nd – beyond the hypotheses that have been raised so far in the Saudi investigation, which need to be backed by facts to be considered credible."
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a few days later in a speech at the Justice and Development (AK) Party group meeting, drew attention to the contradictory statements by Saudi Arabia.
"In the light of the present information, these questions are puzzling everyone: Why did these 15 people, all of whom have qualities related to the incidents [meaning that these people had specific skills that could be used to perform the murder or erase/hide evidence], gathered in Istanbul? We are looking for an answer to this question. By whose order did they go there? Why was the consulate building opened to the investigation after days rather than immediately? We are looking for an answer. Why were there so many inconsistent statements while the murder was apparent? Why is the body of a person, who is officially accepted dead, is still not there?"
Emphasizing that Saudi Arabia had to clarify who the "local collaborator to whom the body was handed over," Erdogan stated that the 18 people arrested in line with the murder had to be brought to justice in Turkey.
– Turkish evidence pointing to planned murder
Then, a statement by the Office of Prosecution published Oct. 25 on the Saudi Press Agency said the information coming from the joint working group of Turkey and Saudi Arabia hinted Khashoggi’s murder was "planned".
A couple of days after the statement, Saud al-Mojeb, the top prosecutor of Saudi Arabia, came to Turkey to discuss the murder with Irfan Fidan, the public prosecutor in Istanbul working on the case.
– No information on local collaborator
He left Turkey without making any statements, however, the Prosecutor's Office of Istanbul shared the details of the murder with him.
Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor's Office made an official statement on the issue, saying: "Victim Jamal Khashoggi was strangled to death — in a premeditated way — soon after he entered the Istanbul Consulate of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on Oct. 2, 2018 for wedding procedures. His body was disposed of after being dismembered following his death by suffocation – again, in line with the plans."
The statement followed that Turkish officials could not achieve concrete results from the talks with counterparts despite the office's good intentions to uncover the truth behind the killing, noting that Saudi Arabia provided no information on the existence of a "local collaborator".
Unlike statements by Saudi officials published in media regarding a "local collaborator," they denied "such statements" during their talks with Turkish counterparts.
Saudi Arabia seeks death penalty for 5 “unknown” people.
On Nov. 15, the Prosecutor's Office of Saudi Arabia made a series of statements on the murder, refuting the previous statements once again.
Shalaan bin Rajih Shalaan, a spokesman of the Prosecutor's Office in Saudi Arabia, said the body of Khashoggi was "was dismembered inside the consulate and transferred outside."
Shalaan said the order to repatriate Khashoggi came from Ahmed Asiri, the former deputy intelligence chief who was sacked last month, adding that the murder was not premeditated.
It was noted that 11 of the 21 suspects were to be tried on various accusations and the prosecutor sought the death penalty for five others. However, no information on the identity of any of the suspect was provided.
After confessing the body was "dismembered in the consulate," Shalaan went on to say it was handed over to a local collaborator and the Saudi officials would present the identikit would be given to Turkish authorities.
The spokesman put forward that the 15-man squad was established to convince Khashoggi to return to Saudi Arabia. He underlined that "Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was misinformed on the incident since the beginning."
According to a statement by the Chief Prosecutor's Office, Asiri ordered the commander of the squad — whose name is not made public — to bring Khashoggi back to Saudi Arabia, either by convincing or force.
The mission commander formed the team that would provide negotiations, intelligence and logistics and got in contact with forensic experts to erase the details of the operation if force was to be used.
The squad commander, according to the statement by the prosecutor's office, decided to kill Khashoggi if the negotiations failed.
"The investigation has concluded that the crime was carried out after a physical altercation with the victim took place, where he was forcibly restrained and injected with a large amount of a certain drug resulting in an overdose that led to his death,"
"The investigation has identified those that ordered and carried out the murder, totaling 5 individuals that have confessed to the murder and their statements squared," the statement read.
"Based upon the description provided by the individual who delivered the body to the collaborator, a composite sketch of the collaborator has been produced," it said.
The statement went on to say that one of the squad members disabled the surveillance cameras, noting that Asiri was given a "false report" suggesting that Khashoggi had left the consulate.
– Questions still unanswered
Given that Saudi Arabia has followed a trend in which its previous statements have been refuted one after another, one might wonder how long these fresh statements will be valid.
The following questions are yet to be answered: "Who is the local collaborator? — if there is one — and "where is the body?"
On the other hand, the international press has repeatedly highlighted that the order of murder extends to the highest level in the royal kingdom and this is why Riyadh administration has stumbled that many times.
Also, that the Saudi prosecutor seeks the death penalty for five people whose names are not public is evaluated to be a move to protect the actual perpetrators.
The international community is still awaiting to learn who actually gave the order to kill Khashoggi and all those responsible for his killing, including the actual perpetrators.
*Ali Murat Alhas has contributed to this story from Ankara.